Refugees of AFP-MILF Clash Suffer Poor Conditions at Centers

The most recent armed clashes between members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have temporarily stopped, but residents of Midsayap, North Cotabato still refuse to return to their homes despite their squalid conditions at evacuation centers.

BY AUBREY MAKILAN
Bulatlat

The most recent armed clashes between members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have temporarily stopped, but residents of Midsayap, North Cotabato still refuse to return to their homes despite their squalid conditions at evacuation centers.

Land conflict

The most recent armed confrontation between the MILF and the AFP affected Natularanmu barangays (villages of Nabalawag, Tugal, Lower Glad, Rangaban, and Mudsing) in Midsayap.

In an interview with Bulatlat, Ana Maria Labrador, Natularanmu Peace Council secretary, said that the conflict emanated from a land dispute. The area in dispute, she said, is a 24-hectare land in Rangaban. She said the land which used to be tilled by Moro peasants is now being cultivated by Christian members of an organization called Bantay Bayan, the only group accredited by the government to develop the land.

Labrador also said the ownership of the land is still being contested in court by a certain Mateo Falcon, a Christian, and Uling Panansang, a Muslim.

This conflict, she said, triggered the armed confrontation between the MILF and the AFP despite the 2003 ceasefire agreement between the two sides.

The Luwaran, the website of the MILF, reported that 14 bombs were dropped by the AFP last Jan. 26 from 10:30-11:30 a.m.. A certain woman identified as Noria was reportedly killed and several were wounded.

Bai Zaynab Ampatuan, national deputy.secretary-general of Suara Bangsamoro Party said that the “intensifying clash between the AFP and MILF could have been prevented if the AFP reported to the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities, which was formed by the International Monitoring Committee, any violation allegedly perpetrated by the MILF.”

“A war could not have erupted if this was peacefully addressed by concerned committees since the peace talks is on going anyway,” said Ampatuan.

The Suara Bangsamoro party would lead a fact-finding mission in the area to verify reported violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. Ampatuan said that the mission aims to come up with “a humanitarian and peaceful resolution to the recent conflict for the benefit of civilians affected by this on-going clash.”

Evacuation

At least 6,000 residents were forced to evacuate Rangeban, Tugal and Mudsing, after Philippine Air Force OV-10 planes reportedly bombed MILF posts.

Jesus Dureza, presidential adviser to the peace talks, said the ground and air assault by government forces persisted for two days.

Mohaqher Iqbal, head of the MILF negotiating panel, said the bombing by government troops of several villages was indiscriminate. Government officials denied that the AFP dropped bombs, but a report by the Bantay Ceasefire, a grassroots-based civilian ceasefire monitoring group, confirmed the bombings.

In its report, it said two government planes dropped bombs in Mudsing at about 10 a.m. of Jan. 27. It added that the bombing forced the villagers to leave barangays Tugal, Rangeban, Nes, Nabalawag and Tumbras.

Natularanmu villagers were given a training course on community-based disaster management by the Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation, Inc. (MISFI), a local organization under the network of the Citizens Disaster Response Center (CDRC) last July 2006, said Danny Gumanao of MISFI.

Gumanao said that the training enabled the people to respond immediately to the situation.

But lack of supplies, Labrador said, hampered the evacuees from applying appropriate procedures in maintaining the evacuation centers.

Among the evacuation centers being occupied by Midsayap residents are Flauta Elementary School, Barangay Site in Lower Glad, Agriculture Elementary School, Poblacion Siete, and Agriculture Naitonal High School.

Worsening conditions

Labrador told Bulatlat that she is still receiving text messages informing her that more evacuees are arriving at the Agriculture Elementary School. Because of the increasing number of evacuees, comfort rooms are hardly kept clean. And worse, the evacuation centers are already cramped..

As a result, many evacuees are afflicted with colds, cough, fever, and diarrhea.

Despite the worsening conditions at the evacuation centers, and the reported cessation of armed hostilities, the people refuse to return to their homes out of fear.

Maraming tulong pero hindi sapat,” (The evacuees receive a lot of assistance. But these are still inadequate.) said Labrador. She said food, water, and other resources are badly needed as the volume of evacuees continues to rise.

Labrador warned that if this situation lasts for another week, “Mas mahirap pa ang dadanasin nila.” (They will suffer more.)

Meanwhile, the CDRC appeals for help for the Midsayap evacuees. Donations may be sent through its office at 72-A Times St., West Triangle Homes, Quezon City or through telephone numbers 924-0386 or 929-9822.

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