For quite sometime, it was just there, inside a drawer of an office table in a village hall in a town in Maguindanao. It is not the usual office stationery you keep on your drawer, it is an unexploded ordnance (UXO), 60mm mortar found by one of the village officials. He kept it in his drawer, locked. For whatever reason, he waited for the right time to turn it over.
The whole time that it was locked in the drawer, a lot of things have happened in the outside world. The Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro was signed between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Bangsamoro Basic Law was drafted, submitted and filed in Congress, ongoing public hearings are now being conducted, among many other exciting developments happening in the Bangsamoro areas. There is greater confidence among the communities that life will soon be better.
As part of the agreement in the ‘Annex on Normalization’, the FSD (Fondation Suisse de Deminage or Swiss Foundation for Mine Action) and the Philippine Campaign to Ban Landmines, with support from the European Union started implementing the agreement between the government and the MILF on clearing the Bangsamoro areas of landmines and unexploded ordnances (UXOs). And this is where the story of the bomb in a drawer began.
The FSD/PCBL team starts the day’s work going to villages conducting surveys on potential hazardous areas affected by UXOs. People in the communities cooperate and willingly share information on areas where they think UXOs still exist when they learn that this effort is about implementing the agreement between the government and the MILF and all about making their communities safer.
“May nakita kaming mortar” (we found one mortar round), one of the village officials revealed to one of the FSD Community Liaison Officers in a town in Barira, Maguindanao during one of the visits there. The team was surprised when he ushered everyone towards one of the drawers in a village hall. He unlocked the drawer and pulled it.
There it was: a 60mm mortar bomb which failed to explode during the height of the armed conflict between the government and the armed group. Since the team cannot and is not allowed to handle explosives, it advised the officials to keep it and never touch it again (UXO/Mine Risk Education message: do not touch, do not go near explosives).
It was only last weekend that the drawer was opened once again and finally the UXO was recovered, with the facilitation of the FSD/PCBL team, and turned over safely to the EOD experts of the Philippine Army for disposal.
*Fred Lubang is the National Coordinator of the Philippine Campaign to Ban Landmines & the Regional Representative of Nonviolence International Southeast Asia.