A report of the Bantay Ceasefire, a grassroots-based independent group monitoring the ceasefire between the government and the MILF despite the stalled talks, said residents of Palepain have been complaining because the soldiers "would not allow them to bring foodstuff back to their homes. Many of them who went to buy food at the market have not been allowed to go back home despite the fact that their village was not affected by the conflict."
Military operations against the suspected MILF attackers started on December 27. The food blockade reportedly started on December 28, Bantay Ceasefire said.
At around 9 p.m. on December 24, an undetermined number of alleged MILF guerrillas fired upon but missed the military training camp here in what residents believe was an attempt to provoke the soldiers to an armed confrontation.
Pacita Mataco, a Kaolo native from Santa Maria town of Davao del Sur who had been working as farm laborer here the past 15 years, was killed when she was hit by a stray bullet reportedly fired by MILF guerrillas. Rene Matalaray was also slightly wounded.
Rexall Kaalim, Bantay Ceasefire coordinator, appealed to authorities to "spare the civilians in its military operation by immediately lifting the food blockade."
He said the village of Palepain was not affected by the Christmas Eve conflict so "the food blockade against them will only worsen the situation of the civilians. Many children have no more food to eat."
Lt. Col. Tony Sugarol, chief of the Army’s 68th IB, told MindaNews in a text message that he will verify the report from his company commander in Alamada.
Barangay Councilor Marilou dela Cerna said they were forewarned about the sighting of the MILF guerrillas and the alleged plan to attack this barangay as early as 8 in the morning.
Dela Cerna said she relayed to one Lt. Anino of the Army’s 68th IB who was manning the training camp the reported threat by the rebels "but they did nothing."
Dela Cerna claimed that she went around to inform residents of the threat. Just as the Christmas Eve mass ended at around 9 p.m., there was firing of guns in a cattle ranch two kilometers away.
Meanwhile, the Municipal Social Welfare Office has appealed to humanitarian organizations to help them feed 1,445 evacuees representing 347 families who fled to at least four evacuation centers.
MSW officer Aloha Ballos said many evacuees opted to stay in houses of their relatives. Most of the evacuees are Kaolo natives of Santa Maria who have come to Dado to work as farm laborers.
Ballos said evacuees not only need food but also medicines, mosquito nets, mats, cooking and kitchen utensils. (Romy B. Elusfa/MindaNews contributor)