Buliok 7 years after the war: Painful imprints still linger

BARANGAY BULIOK, Pagalungan, Maguindanao (MindaNews / February 12) –  The rubble, the bullet-riddled walls, the bomb craters have remained. And though not visible, the wounds of war have yet to heal for thousands of residnents who were forced to leave their homes when government forces bombarded this village during the Eid’l Adha congregational prayer on February 11, 2003. A village official narrates their hardships at the evacuation center in nearby Pikit town in North Cotabato, some 15 kilometers from here.

Villagers recall the incident as “treacherous attack against the Moro people,” happening as it did on Eid’l Adha, the Islamic feast of the holy sacrifice.

The barangay official took a deep breath before describing the first bomb dropped beside the mosque where they were holding the congregational prayer.

About a hundred people gathered at a Mahad (Arabic school) in Pikit, Cotabato on February 11 to commemorate the attack at the Islamic Center in Barangay Buliok, Pagalungan, Maguindanao exactly seven years ago. The government bombarded the village on the pretext of running after criminal elements but later admitted that it was out to crush the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) positions in the area. Keith Bacongco / AKP Images

“The Imam never finished the prayer;  they ran for their lives from the rain of  bombs and mortar shells,” he recalled as he took another deep breath and bowed his head. The explosions reportedly left three persons dead.

Seven years ago, government forces attacked Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) positions here as well as in nearby villages of Pikit. The government earlier said that they were hunting down members of the dreaded Pentagon kidnap-for-ransom gang who were reportedly hiding in Liguasan Marsh. Later, government forces went out to flush the MILF in the area.

The fighting displaced thousands of people from several barangays of Pagalungan and Pikit. About a hundred evacuees, mostly children, died in the evacuation centers due to diseases.

For 60-year old Tuwaw Abdulrhakman, the war in 2003 left nothing but hardship as they lost farm animals and their houses were destroyed due to relentless aerial and artillery bombing.

“We have not fully recovered from the war even if it was seven years ago. Look at our house, this was not like this before the war. We have not availed of the rehabilitation program,” Abdulrhakman told MindaNews as she points to the dilapidated walls of their shanty.

She recalls that two days before the attack, they were advised by the village chief to evacuate because the military was already in nearby Barangay Rajahmuda and would launch ground assault anytime. “Hindi na namin kayang magpaiwan kasi wala na ring pumapasok na supply ng pagkain kasi hinaharang ng mga sundalo sa Rajahmuda,” (We couldn’t stay behind because food supply was getting scarce as this was barred by soldiers in Rajahmuda), she recounted. “Ayaw na namin ng gulo para makabawi na talaga kami.Nakakapagod mag-bakwit” (We don’t like war so we can move on. We’re tired of evacuating).

Abdulrhakman stayed at the evacuation center for four months. She had to sell their farm animals when the food supply at the evacuation center dwindled.

Traces of War

How can one forget the war in 2003 when the war’s rubble is a daily reminder?
The village official points to what was once a Marine detachment just about a hundred meters from the Islamic Center. Several knee-deep foxholes and bunkers are still in place but now covered with grasses and dried banana leaves.

He also pointed to a former prison cell of the MILF. The cell’s floor area is 12 square feet, its walls made of about six inches of concrete and the ceiling, also concrete, about 15 feet high. The cell has two windows of 1 by 4 feet.

“This is where the MILF used to lock-up those who violated the laws of the MILF here, such as drug addicts, thieves and murderers,” he explained.

Now it’s riddled with bullets from .50 caliber machine guns of government troops . A hole one foot in diameter, is a reminder of what an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) is capable of doing.

When the Marines occupied the area, the prison cell was reportedly converted into a makeshift disco house. A hut was also built on top, where they occasionally partied, villagers said.

The barangay official disclosed there was an attempt by the MILF to recapture the area.

Across this village is Barangay Buliok, Pikit (North Cotabato) side, which was the object of aerial bombings and artillery shelling in 2003.

Bomb craters are still visible in some areas near the riverbanks of Pulangi River.

This warehouse was destroyed after a 500-pound bomb was dropped beside this structure and is left unrepaired seven years after the war in barangay Buliok, Pikit, North Cotabato in February 2003. Ruby Thursday More/ AKP Images

What used to be a warehouse constructed through the Special Zone of Peace and Development program, is now a rubble. The warehouse has been left unrepaired despite the government’s rehabilitation program in the area and residents have left the 6-foot deep bomb crater beside the rubble, uncovered.

Remembering 2/11

Earlier in the morning of February 11, 2010,  a peace forum was held at the Mahad (Arabic school) in Pikit poblacion, where at least 100 people gathered to commemorate the Buliok attack.

Ustadz Abdul Nasser Musa said the future generation must never forget this day. “Marami nang nagawang kasalanan ang gobyerno sa Bangsamoro. At ang pangyayaring ito noong 2003 ay isa sa pinakamasakit para sa atin na mga Bangsamoro. Hindi nila kinilala ang ating karapatan sa pananampalataya”  (Government has committed so many sins  against the Bangsamoro. What happened in 2003 was so painful for us Bangsamoro), he told the crowd.
In  a separate statement, Nasser Ali, lead convenor of the 2/11 Movement, asked local and national government officials to “refrain from using the GRP-MILF peace process to bolster their political and economic interests. “

Ali also appealed to any group or individual to wait for the results of the peace process before pursuing their interests in the Liguasan Marsh, which is touted to be rich in natural gas.

“The Bangsamoro people, being the rightful owner, must be included and always be part of the every effort to develop the Liguasan Marsh,” he stressed.
The 2/11 Movement is composed of 14 Moro peoples organization binding themselves to lead the move in seeking justice “not just for those who were killed in the Buliok attack but (also for) other victims of injustices at the height of the 2003 war.” ( Keith Bacongco / MindaNews)