Mindanao NGO to military: End operations vs BIFF soon

Rappler.com
This is to minimize the anxiety of civilians affected by the gunfight, the Mindanao Human Rights Action Center says

COST OF WAR. Residents of Maguindanao take their belongings as they seek temporary shelter at the MinHRAC office in Datu Piang, Maguindanao. Photo by MinHRAC

MANILA, Philippines – With thousands displaced by the firefight between government forces and a breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a Mindanao-based human rights organization on Thursday, January 30, appealed to authorities to conclude operations as soon as possible. 

In a statement, the Mindanao Human Rights Action Center (MinHRAC) said: 

Given the need to cause as little disruption to the lives of civilians and to minimize their anxiety, we appeal that this “police action” be wrapped up immediately or that more proportionate military measures be adopted to undertake this “police action” to address civilian apprehensions about a police action that involves intense artillery shelling for several days.”

Based on its ground monitoring operations, MinHRAC said the exchange of gunfire at the checkpoint of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Bgy Magaslong in Datu Piang has forced residents living in barangays near the town center to evacuate on Thursday. 

Close to 4,000 people have been forced to flee their homes due to the military offensive against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said.

As of Thursday, the military said it had captured the strongholds of the BIFF in Maguindanao. At least 40 rebels and 1 soldier have been killed in the firefight. 

However, authorities are extending their operation, which was supposed to have ended Wednesday, January 29, to Saturday, February 1, to run after remaining members. 

Fighting erupted between the military and the BIFF hours after the government signed a peace deal with the MILF in Kuala LumpurThe BIFF wants to pursue an “independent Islamic state.” 

More aid packs needed

MinHRAC also called on authorities to provide additional aid to residents who have been displaced since Monday. 

The group said aid packs distributed to residents would last for only two days. The packs contain 2 kilos of rice, 4 cans of sardines, 4 packets of instant noodles, 1 pack of instant coffee.

“Given that there is still no indication how long they will be displaced, we recommend and appeal that additional aid be provided to the (internally displaced persons) and more to be on stand-by,” MinHRAC said. 

The local government unit of Pikit in North Cotabato has made its calamity funds available for the purchase of relief goods, according to DSWD. 

As of Tuesday, January 28, the DSWD said at least 796 families or 3,980 persons were forced to take shelter in 10 evacuation centers in Pikit, North Cotabato, while at least 45 families or 225 persons were staying in one evacuation center in Datu Piang, Maguindanao. 

Meanwhile, about 913 families or 4,565 persons have sought refuge in their friends’ or relatives’ houses. 

The group also called on authorities to iron out the logistics of distributing relief for displaced families after some families reportedly failed to receive aid packs. 

For instance, MinHRAC said 33 families in Sitio Madtalbayug had to divide 11 aid packs among themselves after their names weren’t called during distribution – even if they had listed down their names Wednesday. 

MinHRAC is a member of the Civilian Protection Component of the International Monitoring Team, which monitors the ceasefire agreement between the government and the MILF. – with a report from Angela Casauay/Rappler.com