Bual took cover and gathered the women and children in one corner until the gunshots stopped and they heard the sound of motorcycles leaving.
Bual thought everybody was fine until he discovered that his 26-year old niece and her year-old daughter were hit by bullets. Nur Tugunon was hit on her left arm while cradling close to her bosom Nurhaya, whose leg was hit.
One of the so-called Peace and Development Communities (PDCs) under the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), peace always hangs on the balance in Barangay Tenan.
The creation of PDCs in formerly conflict-affected communities was a multi-million project implemented by UNDP. It was part of the multi-lateral development package as stipulated under the 1996 Peace Agreement between the MNLF and the government.
The aim was to "transform conflict-affected communities into peace and development areas through accelerated barangay-focused rehabilitation and development”.
“I was part of the project in transforming our community into a haven for peace and development after 1996 as a Peace and Development Advocate (PDA),” he said.
His predominantly Moro barangay has not completely shed off its negative image, he said.
“After 1996 and with the help of the government, we tried to create a space for peace and development slowly emerging as a successful PDC,” said Bual.
He intimated that although the peace and security situation was far from ideal, it was “relatively good” when compared to pre-1996.
“We were happy with how things turned for us in our community,” Bual proudly said.
But barely three months into his term as the new barangay chair, things looked gloomy and peace hangs on the balance again.
Two members of the militia force were killed in separate attacks in the barangay last week. Valentino Nalaunan, a member of the Civilian Volunteers Organization (CVO) and Avelino Labrador, a Citizens’ Auxiliary Force Geographical Unit (Cafgu) regular, were slain in separate attacks by still unidentified men.
Witnesses said Nalaunan was eating his supper together with his children when the suspects barged in and without apparent reason, clubbed him to death.
In a separate incident, unidentified gunmen shot Labrador to death while playing billiards in a local store.
While both killings were still under investigation, two police informants, identified as Stephen Bayking and Danny Gamo, were riding a motorcycle at around one o’clock in the afternoon of January 29 when they were fired at by motor-riding gunmen in the highway portion of the barangay. Bayking was seriously wounded and was evacuated to Zamboanga City while Gamo sustained a gunshot wound on his left arm.
Two hours after the ambush, a senior official of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Zamboanga Sibugay was arrested by police operatives led by Police Inspector Richard Torres of the 902 Provincial Mobile Group. Barahama Ali was arrested on the strength of the old warrant of arrest for robbery with homicide issued by the local court (see related story)
Villagers were just settling down for the day when the house of Bual was strafed by motorcycle-riding gunmen three hours after the arrest of Ali.
“We are wondering why despite the ambush incident that happened earlier and the arrest of (Barahama) Ali, the police did not bother to set up checkpoint in our community,” Bual asked.
Bual said that if a checkpoint was set-up by the police, the strafing incident could not have happened.
“I believe I was the target of the gunmen,” he theorized, adding “some people might have suspected me of coddling people like Ali.”
“But this should not stop us to iron out this problem peacefully,” he said.
Rashid said he wants to bring this matter to the attention of a government agency whose mandate is to ensure success of former PDCs in the different areas of Mindanao.
“I am thinking of the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Peace Process (OPAPP) or similar agencies to help us before the situation will deteriorate further,” Bual said. (Antonio Manaytay/MindaNews contributor)