Mohalidin Unsi insists that the bombing attack by an OV 10 aircraft that killed four children, his wife and father-in-law, September 8, while they were fleeing on a boat was deliberate. He said they were even fired upon by soldiers while they were retrieving the bodies of the dead children.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Mohalidin Unsi, his pregnant wife, father-in-law, and some neighbors, including children, were fleeing from their homes in Sitio (sub-village) Dagading, Barangay (village) Tee in Datu Piang, Maguindanao just as a fighter plane was dropping bombs in the area at around 9-10 a.m. on Sept. 8. Suddenly, one bomb was dropped near the boat that carried the children.
Unsi thinks the attack on the children was deliberate. “Alam nilang mga sibilyan kami dahil may mga bata, pero hinulugan pa rin ng bomba (They could tell we are civilians because there were children with us, but still they dropped bombs near us),” he told the delegates to a recent National Interfaith Humanitarian Mission (NIHM) to Pikit, North Cotabato and Datu Piang, Maguindanao.
At first, he said the fighter plane of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), which he identified as an OV 10 aircraft, seemed to be dropping the bombs just anywhere.
Because of the children’s seating arrangement, the boat carrying them was in danger of capsizing, so they were made to alight and rearrange their places. “Ang lupang binabaan nila ang hinulugan ng bomba (It was on the part of the soil where they had set foot that the bomb was dropped),” Unsi said.
Four of the children were killed, while six, including his wife’s brother, 13-year-old Guiamaludin, were wounded. The dead children were identified as Bailyn, 9; Zakarudin, 7; Adtayan, 5; and Faidza, 2 – all siblings of his wife, Aida Mandi. Aida and her father Daya were also killed.
Unsi and his neighbors gathered the four children’s bodies one by one and brought them to a nearby road, where there were soldiers. “No’ng iniaahon na ang mga bata, pinagbababaril pa rin kami kahit mga sibilyan kami (While we were bringing the dead children from the river, the soldiers began shooting at us even though we are civilians),” he said.
After that he returned to the river for the remains of his wife and father-in-law.
“Binigyan ako (ng mga sundalo) ng 30 minuto para balikan ang asawa at biyenan ko, at pagkatapos no’n, babarilin na ako (The soldiers gave me 30 minutes to go back for the bodies of my wife and father-in-law, after which they would shoot me),” Unsi said. “Asawa ko na lang ang nabalikan ko dahil natakot na ako (It was only my wife’s corpse that I was able to bring back, because I feared for my life).”
(His father’s body was retrieved only in the afternoon of the next day, when there were fewer soldiers in the vicinity.)
Site of encounters
Brgy. Tee, where Sitio Dagading is located, is one of the major areas of fighting between government troops and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). But Unsi is sure there was no encounter between the military and the MILF the day they were bombed.
There had been encounters between government troops and the MILF as early as June 30 in Sitio Maligaya, Brgy. 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.
A consequence of the armed conflict
Unsi is well aware that what happened to his family is among the consequences of a long-running conflict that is more than military in character.
“Sana, ibigay na ng gobyerno ang hinihingi ng Bangsamoro at itigil na ang bakbakan, dahil ang apektado ay ang mga sibilyan (I hope the government addresses the demands of the Bangsamoro and the fighting would stop, because civilians are the ones affected),” Unsi said.
“Sana po, agad na matigil ang kaguluhang ito para matigil na ang paghihirap ng mga sibilyan (I hope this fighting will stop soon so that the civilians’ sufferings will end),” he also said. “Papatayin ba ang lahat ng sibilyan bago matigil ang kaguluhan? (Will they kill all the civilians before the fighting would stop?)” (Bulatlat.com)