Civilians carry guns for defense vs BIFF rebels in Maguindanao

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Civilians carry guns for defense vs BIFF rebels in Maguindanao
'We have information that they may attack again. This time we are ready. We cannot let them kill us,' say villagers still reeling from the Christmas eve attack on their community

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines – In the wake of attacks launched by rebel group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), civilians in a farming village in Ampatuan town have armed themselves as they vowed to “defend ourselves and our communities.”

During the day, farmers take turns taking a nap or attending to their fields. At night, they remain awake, guarding residents to prevent another attack, just days after some 300 heavily armed BIFF rebels stormed the village of Kauran and nearby villages on Christmas Eve. 

The attack killed 6 farmers from their village and another 4 from neighboring provinces. 

“This is too much. Who will protect us? Especially at night, [we rely only] on ourselves,” a male farmer in his 40s, who asked not to be named, said as he brandished his M-16 Armalite rifle.

Another man, visibly deprived of sleep, said: “We mourn the deaths of our 6 village-mates. Our farmers want freedom; our farmers just wanted to till the lands to feed everyone’s families and send the children to school.”

“We have information that they may attack again. This time we are ready, we cannot let them kill us while doing nothing to defend ourselves,” said another armed man, who requested anonymity.

The BIFF, a breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, launched synchronized attacks in Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat on Christmas Eve, killing 11 people. 

The rebel group claimed the attacks were part of their jihad or holy war. (READ: Pope hits Christmas Eve attacks by BIFF)

Since the attacks, male villagers – mostly armed – patrol the village’s periphery, sometimes trading shots with armed men a kilometer away. Meanwhile, women and children were moved to the village hall at night to keep them safe.

One of those who lost a brother in the BIFF attacks called the rebels “heartless” for sniping at the villagers who came to retrieve the bodies.

“It’s Christmas. It really hurts when we are supposed to celebrate, now we are mourning the loss of our loved ones,” she said.

On Monday, December 28, the Humanitarian Emergency Assistance Response Team of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and the social welfare department distributed relief goods to displaced families and P10,000 for families who lost a relative in the attacks. 

The Maguindanao provincial government gave an additional P10,000 in cash and a sack of rice to the relatives of the slain farmers.

Also on Monday, Western Mindanao Command chief Major General Mayoralgo dela Cruz met with local military commanders to discuss counter-offensive measures.

“As long as there are groups that harass our helpless civilians, we will hold the attackers responsible and accountable. We will not allow them to go on with senseless killings,” Dela Cruz said.

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