Armed men burn houses in Montawal; politics eyed

KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews/19 May) — More than a hundred villagers from a town in Montawal, Maguindanao fled to nearby Kabacan town in North Cotabato on Sunday when some 70 armed men, believed to be supporters of a defeated local candidate, burned their houses and other belongings.

Ustadz Akmad Kadtig, of Barangay Bulod in Montawal, said the armed men came from different directions and started burning houses in three sitios around 8 a.m. One of the houses burned belonged to Kadtig’s daughter, Noraika.

The attackers also threw out of his house some of his belongings, including farm equipment, and burned them.

Kadtig is a former councilor of Barangay Bulod.

Barangay Bulod chairman Kakem Urao and former village chair Tambakulo Manabing lost their houses too.

A purok (hut usually made for village meetings) made of nipa owned by the barangay was also razed to the ground.

Lt. Jimson Dugenio, commander of the Charlie Company of the 7th Infantry Battalion, hinted the incident might be politically motivated.

“The victims were officials of the barangay. The victims told us they supported the mayoral candidate in their town who won the elections on May 10,” said Dugenio.

The mayoralty was hotly contested by incumbent Mayor Datu Ohto Montawal and Datu Arkhan Matalam, both members of influential and powerful Moro clans in Maguindanao.

Montawal won and was proclaimed, along with his running mate and members of the Sangguniang Bayan, on May 11. He got 2,681 votes as against Matalam’s 1,751 votes.

But villagers said they do not deserve the harassment.

Kadtig said what they did was just an exercise of their right to suffrage, adding they did not expect violence to occur after May 10.

“The elections were peaceful.  We had no problem during the elections. No one was harassed on that day.  We were just surprised that two days after the elections we were attacked by armed men believed to be supporting a certain candidate,” he said.

Dugenio has identified a certain Angka Sapi and an aide known only as Mantil as among those that led the attack.

The burning of houses was the second in Montawal after the elections.

On May 13, armed men burned the barangay hall and multi-purpose building of Balatongcaya, a barangay adjacent to Barangay Bulod.

But the incident, according to Lt. Col. Domingo Gubuay, commander of the 7th IB, was caused by a grudge between Manalao Guiamel, a councilor of Balatongcaya, and the barangay chairman who fled to safer grounds a few hours later.

Army reports pointed to Guiamel and one Uzi Ampatuan as the alleged culprits.

Dugenio said the situation in Barangay Bulod was still ‘tense’.

“It’s not yet safe for the evacuees to return. We still monitor the presence of armed lawless elements in the area,” he said.

Kadtig said that since Sunday they have not received any relief assistance from the municipal government.

He and his relatives were staying in Purok Silangan, Barangay Cuyapon in Kabacan.

Others have evacuated to nearby Purok Islam, also in Cuyapon. (Malu Cadelina Manar/MindaNews)