NoCot villagers flee as armed groups exchange gunfire in Matalam

Elencio Tipunan, leader of a Manobo tribe and former village councilor of Barangay Arakan in Matalam, said that the fighting started when a number of armed men burned the house of a certain Binsuan Kansi, also a Manobo and resident of Sitio Mampurang.

 

Tipunan, in his report to the Matalam police, identified leaders of the group that led the house burning as Commanders Kabio and Bataga, allegedly from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) operating in the area.

 

“This caused fear among residents in the two villages in Barangay Arakan and Taguranao in Matalam. Many of the villagers had already vacated the area,” said Tipunan.

 

But police reports said that it was actually Tipunan’s group, together with another commander identified as Ubpaan Te alias Commander Bongalos, which led the harassment in the area.

 

The incident reportedly started when five workers of the AJMR visited Barangay Taguranao to do land inspection of the lots tied up to the company.

 

Allan Bernadez, AJMR guard force commander, said that it was Tipunan and Bongalos’ men that ambushed their workers when they were entering the area.

 

The AJMR group was headed by Ed de Guzman, land acquisition officer. With him were clerk Renan Joy Alimudin, land canvassers Bonifacio Lubaton and April Galanto, and driver Bienvenido Gabonada.

 

“The possible reason for the attack is to stop the AJMR from developing the area, which the Manobo tribe claimed as their ancestral land,” said Bernadez.

 

The AJMR workers were reportedly doing land valuation and inspection of a lot owned by Vicky Akmad when they were attacked.

 

Bernadez, in a radio interview, denied reports that the AJMR workers exchanged fires with the armed men and that they have the support of another armed group operating in the area.

 

He refuted allegations that the AJMR has linked with the MILF or any armed group in the area so they could carry out the project.

 

Although no one was reported hurt during the exchange of gunfires, residents living in two villages nevertheless vacated the place for fear of being hit by stray bullets.

 

Tipunan, in a move to clear his name, went to the office of the Matalam police last August 20 and denied charges hurled against him by the AJMR workers.

 

He said the strafing incident was caused by the burning of a house of a Manobo resident in the area by an armed group that has links with the AJMR.

 

But Tipunan admitted that his tribe is against the tying up of their lands to the AJMR.

 

“We will protect our lands to the last drop of our blood,” one of the Manobo leaders said.

 

AJMR has been expanding its banana plantations in the hinterlands of Arakan, Antipas, Magpet, and Carmen in North Cotabato.

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