The MTB also quoted 1ST Lt. Randy Sta. Maria, Civilian Military Officer (CMO) of the 54th IB PA based in Datu Piang, as saying there was no order from national government or from the battalion to send the evacuees, also known as internally displaced persons (IDPs) or bakwits, back to their barangays.
But Sta. Maria acknowledged they suggested to those who came from areas already declared safe and under their control, to to return home.
“We even provide vehicle for those IDPs willing to go back home but we never forced them to do so,” he said.
Armed Forces Chief of Staff Alexander Yano had earlier told a radio station in Cotabato City that there was no directive from Malacañang for IDPs to return home.
Sta. Maria narrated that in their meeting with the Municipal Peace and Order Council composed of local government officials, including barangay captains, they declared five barangays “safe” and under their control. These are Dado, Liong, Masigay Alonganen and Balanaken.
Tan said the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) main office in Manila ordered that “if the barangay is really safe we encourage IDPs to return to their homes."
He said the DSWD told them that at least 20% of IDPs could return to their respective barangays every month.
As of the last update of the National Disaster and Coordinating Council (NDCC) dated January 27, there were still 64,619 families or 314,047 evacuees, most of them served outside evacuation centers (201,488) while the rest (112,559) are still in evacuation centers.
The MTB reported that four evacuation centers have been closed in Datu Piang: the Evangelical Church, Meedo Multi-purpose building, Mubarak Mosque and makeshift tents built under the bridge.
The MTB report quoted Kabiba Mohammad, an evacuee housed in the Datu Gumbay Piang Elementary School, as saying they were told by an official of Datu Piang to return home four days ago.
But Mohammad said they are afraid to return home due to the presence of military forces in their barangays. “Natatakot kami na baka magkaputukan uli at maipit kami sa labanan" (we are afraid there will be firefight again and we will be caught in the crossfire), the MTB quoted her as saying.
She said she can’t go back to Barangay Balanaken because her house was destroyed during the fighting between government troops and the MILF. (MindaNews)