Even as the Arroyo government publicly declares it is for peace in Mindanao, a National Interfaith Humanitarian Mission conducted in North Cotabato and Maguindanao from Oct. 22-24, 2008 concluded that: “The military offensives in North Cotabato and Maguindanao are carried out under the pretext of pursuit operations against Kato and his group, but these in reality fall within the context of an all-out war.” Even evacuation centers are not spared from the military offensives, the mission said, resulting in the deterioration of the situation reaching the proportion of a “humanitarian crisis”.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Even as the Arroyo government publicly declares that it is for peace in Mindanao, a National Interfaith Humanitarian Mission conducted in North Cotabato and Maguindanao from Oct. 21-24, 2008 concluded that the military offensives purportedly meant to merely pursue Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) commander Ameril Ombra Kato and his group appear to be part of an all-out war.
The two provinces are among the foci of renewed fighting between government troops and the MILF.
“The situation in these provinces is deteriorating continuously, and it has now reached the proportions of a humanitarian crisis,” said Joel Virador, national vice chairman and former representative of Bayan Muna (People First).
The NIHM*, spearheaded by Kalinaw Mindanao, went to Pikit, North Cotabato and Datu Piang, Maguindanao.
The two municipalities have become hosts to persons displaced by the armed conflict in the two provinces. Based on Oct. 2 data from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), in Datu Piang alone there are 9,800 family heads with 50,012 dependents.
There had been encounters between government troops and the MILF as early as June 30 in Sitio (sub-village) Maligaya, Barangay (village) Malamote in Kabacan, North Cotabato.
The next day, another skirmish took place in Sitio Tubak, Brgy. Pagangan in Aleosan, North Cotabato. The MILF fighters who figured in this firefight were identified as belonging to the 105th Brigade, led by Commander Ameril Ombra Kato.
The weeks before these incidents saw massive military deployment to North Cotabato, supposedly to secure the province for the Aug. 11 elections in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
These encounters drove community residents to evacuate to Brgy. Bagolibas in Aleosan and Brgys. Bual and Nalapaan in Pikit.
Later that same month, armed men burned some houses in Brgy. Bual and stole a number of farm animals in Brgy. Bagolibas.
On Aug. 2, some 84 houses in Aleosan were razed to the ground. The government claimed that these burnings were perpetrated by MILF fighters led by Kato.
On Aug. 8, four days after the Supreme Court’s issuance of a temporary restraining order on the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MoA-AD) between the government and the MILF, the military implemented Oplan Ultimatum and additional troops were positioned in Pikit, Aleosan, and Midsayap. This, and the dissolution of the government panel in the peace negotiations with the MILF, served as prelude to the intensification of the fighting in North Cotabato.
While clashes continue in North Cotabato, the fighting has also spread to nearby Maguindanao.
Military operations have led residents of affected areas to flee to evacuation centers.