CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 4 March) – The military said on Thursday they have cleared the municipality of Butig in Lanao del Sur where armed men fought with Army soldiers resulting to the death of three soldiers and 21 suspects last week.
Col. Nilo Samarita, chief operations officer of the Army’s 103rd Infantry Brigade, said they have told a provincial peace and order committee on Wednesday that it is now safe for Butig residents who were displaced by the fighting to return home to their villages.
Samarita said they have cleared Barangays Puktan and Ragayan where members of the armed group led by the Maute brothers fought against government troops in the past two weeks.
He said three soldiers and 21 armed men were killed in the two weeks of fighting.
The military gave the clearance for the residents to return home on the same day soldiers stopped a relief convoy of the Department of Social Welfare and Development that was carrying food supplies to Butig.
DSWD Lanao del Sur officer Corrine Tabua said soldiers stopped their convoy when they reached the town of Butig Wednesday afternoon.
She said the soldiers asked for their orders and identities before they were allowed to enter Butig town by 5 p.m. Wednesday.
“We were delayed for several hours while the soldiers checked on our identities and where we were delivering our supplies,” Tabua said.
Samarita said their soldiers were just checking to make sure that the supplies were intended for the displaced residents and not for the armed men. “Our soldiers were just taking extra precaution in checking if the shipment is really intended for the affected residents,” he said.
He said Lanao del Sur Gov. Mamintal Adiong Jr., chair of the provincial peace and order council, issued an order on Wednesday allowing the displaced residents to return home.
“There are residents who are not returning home yet because they are still concerned with their safety. That is understandable,” Samarita told MindaNews.
Buhary Macapanton, head of the DSWD’s relief assistance group, said more than 1,668 families are sill in the houses of their relatives and some schools in the other towns as of Thursday.
Macapanton said most of the displaced residents are still scared to return to their homes in Butig for fear that the fighting may flare up anew.