Ain’t easy being an MILF fighter’s wife

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KABACAN, North Cotabato – Tambay Sambutuan and Baiyan Basayan arrived in the village of Cuyapon in this municipality to seek temporary shelter from the aerial and ground assault against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Camp Rajamuda during the Estrada administration’s “all-out war” in 2000.

Seventeen years later, their temporary stay had somehow become permanent. They did not have to evacuate again as they usually did before 2000, but they continue to hope that one day, they can return to Camp Rajamuda. The camp, straddling parts of Pikit in North Cotabato and Pagalungan in Maguindanao, was the MILF’s third largest back then.

Sambutuan and Basayan were among hundreds of residents who trooped to evacuation centers during the “all-out war.” They were mostly women tagging along their children as they ran for their lives, bringing almost nothing with them but a few belongings.

Their husbands could not be there to help them because as MILF fighters they were with their comrades exchanging fire with government soldiers.

Sambutuan, in recounting  her ordeal during the evacuation, said that it was so difficult because there were no men around to assist the women. In her case, she had to attend to five small children.

Sambutuan, who originally hails from Barangay Bulod in Pagalungan, said they rode a motorized banca, navigating through the narrow waters of the tributaries in the periphery of Liguasan Marsh.

More than two hours later, they reached Cuyapon. Then they got to work.

“Only us women laboriously built the shanties using any raw materials available,” Sambutuan recalled.

Some of them used tarpaulins provided by the local government in building what were supposed to be their temporary shelters.

“It was a very tough situation,” she said.

Like Sambutuan, Basayan had to leave her home in Barangay Bulod when the war broke out, tagging along her two-year-old daughter, her only child at that time.

She said she could no longer recall where her husband was at the time they fled. “But I knew that he was out there in the battlefield with his comrades,” she said in the vernacular.

She said she could not even go to the town proper because they were being watched by government soldiers.

Worse, they were facing an uncertainty that they may never see their husbands again. Fortunately, they were united with their partners over a month later, when things had settled down.

The Sambutuans and the Basayans are among the families who are now living in this secluded community at the periphery of Liguasan Marsh.

Both their husbands have been MILF fighters for over 25 years. As in most cases, their husbands usually live with their families to help earn a living and watch out for the children during peace times, and leave their family behind when trouble erupts to join in the fighting.

Both of them admitted that evacuation had already become part of their lives even before the all-out war broke out in 2000, due to the sporadic clashes between government forces and MILF fighters.

They could no longer remember how many times they had evacuated when they were still young.

In previous wars, they would usually seek refuge in the town center of Pagalungan, only around five kilometers away, and only for a few days, and then return to their village when the fighting was over.

But during the all-out war in 2000, they sought refuge to this far place, in Cuyapon, which is about 30 kilometers away from their original homes.

The good thing about this place, they said, is that they never had to experience evacuation again.

Cuyapon was spared during the 2003 war in the Buliok Complex as the latter was situated far away. The last major fighting between government forces and the MILF rebels was in August 2008, when the signing of the controversial Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain was aborted. Again, Cuyapon was far from where the action was.

The failed signing triggered MILF commander Umbra Kato to attack military outposts in Aleosan town. The fighting spilled over to the neighboring province of Maguindanao and displaced at least half a million people, including those affected by the war in the Lanao provinces.

In another part of town, Guinaria Alamansa, 55, recalled how difficult life was when they were staying in the remote parts of Barangay Pisan in Kabacan, where they were always on the run.

Being the wife of a ranking MILF combatant, Alamansa said that they had to go with her husband wherever he would be deployed.

“It’s very hard to be a wife of a revolutionary because the MILF fighters have no salary. We could only earn money when we can work on other people’s farms during the harvest season,” she said.

On October 15, 2012, the government and MILF signed the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro.  Two years later, both parties signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

In the evacuation area in Cuyapon, dozens of families of MILF combatants from Pagalungan have already settled for good.

Most of the men in this community are still active MILF fighters, who report to their unit for “duty” at least once a month depending on the situation.

While they are “off duty,” the men would help the women in gathering the nipa leaves, fishing in the marsh and collecting firewood.

Sambutuan says she now has “peace of mind” that her husband is always around.

“Our lives are better now, we can work and provide the needs of our children,” said Sambutuan, who weaves traditional sleeping mat for a living.

Basayan, meanwhile, paddles her wooden canoe to the marshy area once a week to collect nipa leaves, a favorite roofing material for huts.

Basayan is selling the nipa roofing for two pesos each in the town proper. During market day, she could earn between P100 and P200.  “During the harvest season, we also work on the farms of some landlords here.”

Unlike in the past when Basayan had to feed her five kids all by herself, life is easier now that there is no more fighting. Her husband is also helping out in making a living. “He is helping me sell the nipa roofing in the town proper and he is catching fish in the marsh for food,” she said.

For Sambutuan, her children can now go to school uninterrupted. Two of them, in fact, already finished high school and are already working abroad.

In Pisan, meanwhile, contrary to their life in times of war, Alamansa now enjoys their newly built house near the barangay center. Her family, along with those of other MILF fighters, used to live in a shanty located in the rugged mountains of Kabacan. It was so far from the barangay center and could only be reached by foot.

“Life is different now that there is no fighting,” Alamansa said.

Now she owns a sari-sari store after they moved into this new community more than a year ago.

“We can now send our children to school. Two of them are in high school.” One of her daughters is already working abroad while another is a public school teacher in this municipality. (Keith Bacongco)

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  1. COMMENT:
    ANG AMING MASASABI SA GOVERNO NG PHILIPINAS AY SANA IPA KITA NA NILA ANG LAHAT NG PINAG KASUNDUAN NG MILF.AND GRP.PARA WLA NG GUERA SA AMING MINDANAO NO ONE SULOTION IN MINDANAO PEACE AND IMPLEMENTING SA KAPAYAPAAN NG MGA MORO MUSLIM AT HILANDERS AND LUMAD.THNK YOU SO MUCH

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