MAGUINDANAO, Philippines – Hundreds of civilians from outlying villages in the towns of Pagalungan, Maguindanao, and Pikit, North Cotabato, continued to flee their homes following clashes of rival Moro armed groups since Saturday night, February 14.
With their children, valuables and farm animals, the villagers left the interior villages of Kalbugan in Pagalungan and Buliok in Pikit Sunday night, February 15, to stay at the Pagalungan gymnasium in Barangay Poblacion and in Mahad School in Poblacion Pikit.
“Walang tigil ang putukan, pina-bakwit kami ng mga barangay kapitan,” one of the evacuees said. (The gunfight has not stopped. Our barangay captains asked us to evacuate.)
The Pagalungan gymnasium was packed with children who slept on the concrete floor covered with tarpaulin, clothes and boxes. The compound of the town hall looked like an animal ground – as it accommodated the evacuees’ carabaos, goats, cows, goats and chickens.
Families continued to arrive Monday morning, February 16, in Pagalungan Poblacion, saying they feared the fighting between warring Moro groups would escalate following the death of a commander of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
One MILF commander was killed in the Saturday clash.
Captain Jo-Ann Petinglay, spokesperson for the 6th Infantry Division based in Maguindanao, said that around 5 pm on Saturday, the MILF’s Eastern Mindanao Front led by Commander Jack Abas started exchanging gun fire with the group of one Commander Gani Saligan of the BIFF.
The clash happened at Barangay Kalbugan in Pagalungan and ended at around 8 pm Saturday. The group commanded by Saligan is under Shiek Muhiddin Animbang alias “Karialan,” Petinglay added.
Abu Misri Mama, speaking for the BIFF, said 4 other MILF members in the clash, but this could not be independently confirmed with other sources.
Petinglay said both armed groups have been “staring at each other since last week.”
She said the Army learned that the BIFF members who figured in a clash with PNP Special Action Force (SAF) troopers in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, on January 25, were to cross North Cotabato from Maguindanao. MILF troops tried to block them, she added.
Petinglay said the Army will ensure the safety of civilians but will not interfere in the fighting between the Moro groups.
The January 25 Mamasapano clash between SAF commandos, MILF and BIFF fighters broke the ceasefire between the government and the MILF in the area. It also threatens to kill the peace process between both sides.
The BIFF, opposed to the peace process, broke away from the MILF and has been mounting attacks to dramatize their stand.
The MILF said they remained committed to peace as it held its own probe into what happened in Mamasapano. For starters, they promised to return the weapons that MILF rebels confiscated from the slain 44 SAF commandos during the January 25 clash. – with reports from Ferdinandh Cabrera/Rappler.com