PIKIT, North Cotabato (MindaNews/23 Aug) – Just a day after the end of their month-long fasting, some residents of Barangay Nalapaan here and in Pagangan in neighboring Aleosan town left their homes Monday evening after a report that armed men would attack a nearby Army detachment anytime.
The villagers fear that they might be caught in the crossfire should clashes erupt between government troops and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
Noraida Salikula, a single mother of five from Nalapaan, said they have not yet fully recovered from the Ramadhan and now they have to endure another suffering.
“Since we had a month-long fasting, we were not able to work hard in our farms. We are supposed to recover what we lost during the fasting, but how can we recover now that we are in the evacuation center?” asked Salikula, who lost her husband due to illness in 2004.
Ramadhan in the Philippines ended on August 20 in a holiday known as Eid’l Fitr.
Like many other evacuees, the 45-year-old mother said that she has not noticed the presence of the BIFF members in their village.
Salikula said they were surprised when some government troops came to their farm and told them that they will conduct clearing operations because of the alleged presence of the BIFF rebels.
“I’m still lucky that I have already harvested my corn and I was able to give money to my daughter studying at USM (University of Southern Mindanao) in Kabacan. But now that I’m at the evacuation center, how can I work to be able to give her money next week?” she asked.
Sahara Abas shared the same sentiment, saying that she has left her crops, which are about to be harvested, to rot in the field.
“We have not really recovered because during the fasting, we were not able to work. We were not even drinking water nor eating regular meals,” said Abas, who lives near the military detachment in Nalapaan.
As of Wednesday, the number of evacuees rose to 345 families staying in different evacuation centers in this town and in the neighboring municipality of Aleosan.
Most of the evacuees are from barangays Nalapaan and Bualan here and Pagangan in Aleosan.
Pikit Mayor Sumulong Sultan has earlier told MindaNews that the reported presence of the BIFF in the remote barangays of his town has triggered the evacuation.
He said that the rebels may have retreated to his town following the capture of their camp in Datu Unsay, Maguindanao recently.
Aleosan Mayor Loreto Cabaya also shared the same view, saying the BIFF rebels may have just passed some barangays in his town as they retreated.
Musanip Patadon, 45, a farmer from Sitio Tubak in Barangay Pagangan, said that he and his family were the last to leave their village on Tuesday afternoon. His neighbors left earlier in the morning.
“According to them, the rebels are already in our village. But I have not seen a single rebel, so I did not leave that morning,” said the father of nine.
But by 1 p.m. a barangay official asked them to evacuate for their safety because an encounter might erupt when the military arrives. That was when Patadon and his family finally left, arriving in Barangay Batulawan at 10:30 p.m.
It was a long walk amid the sun, causing his seven-month-old child to fall ill that they had to rush her to the hospital.
While they were able to bring some belongings, most were left behind, including his chickens. (Keith Bacongco/ MindaNews)