Hundreds of families have been forced to evacuate since the imposed lockdown due to continuous military operations allegedly against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). But the aerial bombings and mortar shelling victimized civilians; the latest casualties include two children and a pregnant woman.
By MENCHANI TILENDO
COTABATO, Maguindanao — Maguindanao is under attack!
As the country and the world suffer from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Maguindanaons are made to endure much worse with the indiscriminate aerial bombings and military operations carried out in various locations in the province.
According to Kawagib Moro Human Rights Network, a network of Bangsamoro rights defenders and organizations based in Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), hundreds of families have been forced to evacuate since the imposed lockdown due to continuous military operations allegedly against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
Already, Kawagib has recorded several incidents of death and serious injuries brought about by the series of mortar shelling and military operations in communities.
Mortars are light-weight portable short-ranged weapons used to launch bombs on select target areas.
According to Kawagib, on May 24, 2020, such weapons were used to bombard Sitio Zailon of Barangay Kitango, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, killing two children and seriously wounding several other civilians.
Killed were Tambak sibblings Aslamiya, 10, and Sadima, 7.
“Military elements of the 57th IB are the ones who fired mortars that killed my children,” Said Tambak said in an interview.
“This indiscriminate firing happened even when there was no encounter nor any operation in our community. It was the month of Eid’l Fitr that time, there was nothing that warrants them to attack our community like that,” Tambak painfully recalled.
After almost a year, the case of the killing of the Tambak children has not moved. After the incident, Tambak was interviewed by their barangay captain, assisting him in writing his affidavit but no legal aid was provided.
“At this point, all I want is justice for the military’s murder of my children. They should be jailed and removed from their post,” he lamented.
More bombings, more innocents killed
On December 13, 2020 at around 7:00 p.m., residents of barangay Sambulawan in Datu Salibo heard eight rounds of mortar fires coming from the nearby military detachment.
The shelling hit a warehouse, injuring six civilians including two children, Saad Abdulkadir Tumbi, 6, and his sister, Zaharamia, 10.
Both were sleeping when the bombings happened. They suffered injuries in the head. Saad’s extensive injuries warranted for him to be confined at Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City, however, this February 14, the infection caused by the serious wounds claimed his life.
Two days after the December 13 shelling, residents of Barangay Pusaw in Shariff Saydona Mustapha fell victim to vicious military operations.
At around 10:15 p.m. on December 15, at least 530 families were forced to immediately leave their homes. The operation led to the death of 35-year-old Rabea Damada Lakim, who was seven months pregnant.
Lakim Ali, husband of Rabea, said that on the night of the bombing by the military, his family was already asleep when they were stirred by the terrifying explosions.
His pregnant wife panicked and immediately ran outside.
“I told her (Rabea) to slow down and wait for me to finish closing down our house, but she was already running in haste,” he said.
“On the third explosion of the mortar, about 250 meters from our house, I saw her fall, hit on the right side of her neck,” he recalled.
“When we brought her to the nearest hospital, she was declared dead on arrival. I lost a wife and a second child,” Ali said.
The local government unit extended P5,000 cash assistance and two sacks of rice to the family.
No match in the legal battle
Ali reserved the right not to file a case against the military, fearing reprisal. On the other hand, Tambak, the father of Aslamiya and Sadima, expressed discontent over the failure of the Bangsamoro Human Rights Council to file a case against the soldiers responsible for the death of his children.
All of the victims and their families offered their cases to be presented to international human rights organizations and bodies for investigation and are asking for help in their campaign to make the military units be held accountable for the deaths and injuries of their relatives due to mortar shelling and indiscriminate firing in their communities.
Residents of Maguindanao have identified the military units near their communities – including the 57th Infantry Battalion at that time based at the 1st Mechanized Brigade at barangay Elian, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, and the 2nd Mechanized Battalion at Datu Salibao municipality.
These units are under the 6th Infantry Division based in Awang, Maguindanao.
The 6th ID admitted to firing several 105-mm Howitzer on December 15 allegedly to flush out BIFF elements seen in the adjacent town of Datu Salibo, but they denied firing at the Shariff Saydona Mustapha municipality.
The family of the victims are distraught, seeking for justice for the longest time but to no avail. They expressed that because of poverty, they are forced to prioritize looking for means to provide for their immediate needs rather than to undergo the harrowing legal battle that they can’t afford.
ATL worsens Mindanao conflict
“In Duterte’s five years of office, Maguindanao never ceased to be a hotbed of crossfires between the military and armed combatants such as the BIFF,” said Amirah Lidasan, spokesperson of Suara Bangsamoro.
“Accounts from civilians are enough proof that military operations this past year have been excessive. The AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines], in general, has fortified its counter-terrorism program close to the level of the national government’s counter-insurgency program,” she added.
Lidasan said that the Anti-Terror Law has emboldened the military to indiscriminately identify as terrorists even legitimate groups fighting for justice and self-determination.
“They have labeled all other armed groups as ‘terrorists,’ and we all know that this has mainly victimized innocent civilians,” she said.
“This formula is no different from that used by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). Year after year, the 6th ID has been a harsh publicity hound, bragging fake ‘ISIS surrenderees’ who are actually innocent Moro civilians. They have time and again claimed to have defeated these ‘terrorists’ but they have been presenting innocent and poor Moro people,” Lidasan added.
“We should call it for what it is – double injustice,” asserted Lidasan.
“The Bangsamoro people have been victims of this overt aggression for the longest time. On top of religious discrimination and cultural degradation, we have been victims of militarization all our lives,” she said, adding, “‘Bakwit’ or forced evacuation has become a routine for most of the residents of Maguindanao, and even after all these crossfires, aid and assistance remain frail.”
“We must never forget that Duterte’s Anti-Terror Law has, first and foremost, vilified the Moro, the Lumad, and the indigenous peoples,” Lidasan said.
“They have been the first targets of this law, and this is a reinforcement of the years-long neglect on our right to land and self-determination. The Moro people have been victims of this social injustice since time immemorial, and we will never let that happen any further,” she added.
Kawagib Human Rights Network and Suara Bangsamoro, along with the families of the victims continue to demand justice and accountability.