MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/21 February) – A clan conflict in 10 villages along the border of Talakag, Bukidnon and Bumbaran, Lanao del Sur are aimed at driving non-Maranao settlers in the area, reports said.
Two groups of armed men, the Dimas and the Mama Orak (or Mamurak) group, figured in clashes since January 2012, sending villagers to flee to neighboring Talakag town, said Sonny Boy Pondi, a former Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) combatant who married a Pentecostal pastor. Pondi now serves as the spokesman for people in the 10 villages caught in the crossfire.
Pondi said the villages are within Bumbaran but were adopted by Talakag. The barangay council of Dominorog in Talakag passed a resolution in 2002 adopting the residents of the 10 villages after they sought help, according to Dominorog barangay chair David Palacio in a text message to MindaNews. The residents were then allowed to register as voters in the barangay.
Pondi has appealed for help from the government for their conflict-torn villages. He said the government must look at their plight and help them be recognized by the local government of Bumbaran.
The villagers, through resolutions, have asked the military to set up a detachment to drive the bandits away, Pondi said.
He confirmed reports from the military that the conflict in the area is a rido (clan conflict).
“But it is not just rido, it is a conflict that is meant to drive the settlers away,” he told MindaNews, adding that the two armed groups wanted to displace the settlers from the area.
Pondi, by affiliation, is the only Maranao permanent resident in the area. Most of the residents are Dumagat (settlers originally from the lowlands) and indigenous peoples belonging to various tribes, including Manobo, Bukidnon and Talaandig. There are also Ifugaos from the north who settled in the area and tended vegetable gardens.
“If they are saying it to allow the conflict to go on and scare the people away, then that’s happening,” he added.
Pondi, according to his wife Alice, was selected as the area’s leader since 2000 so he can serve as emissary to the Maranaos.
“The only reason why they are not attacking Canaan, the poblacion area, is because I’m here,” he said.
Pondi admitted that some of the members of the Mamurak group are his relatives and have asked him to leave his wife so they can attack Canaan and neighboring villages. “I will not do that, I will not leave my wife,” he stressed.
Pondi said two groups of Maranao bandits are at war with each other in the villages of Kilabuntod, Katipunan and Kahayagan, affecting the safety and the economy of at least 3,000 villagers.
He said the armed groups, who continued a decade-old conflict, have each claimed ownership of the lands occupied by the settlers since the early 1990s. The first settlers worked for a logging concessionaire, which was owned by a Maranao businessman. When it folded up, the workers remained in the area and cleared the land for farming.
Pondi said when the settlers were able to develop the area and now manage hundreds of hectares of vegetable farms and other crops, armed Maranaos clans showed up and started to collect exorbitant “rent” or share of the harvest.
In 2001, a series of claims were started from one group of Maranao claimants to another. Pondi said they were mostly from Marawi, expanding their residence in the area.
He said because Bumbaran does not own them as part of the town, they are now a group of villages that belonged practically to no municipality especially in a time of conflict. Alice said their adoption by Talakag does not include protection from the bandits as the Talakag police refuse to enter the area that is under the authority of the police in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Pondi cited political conflict as the reason why the town does not want to include the villages. He said he was formerly connected with the Adiongs who were then political rivals of Bumbaran Mayor Mastura Manabilang.
“One armed group after another have harassed us because there is no government here,” lamented Alice, who heads the Christ Life Fellowship in Canaan.
When there is no one in charge, she added, there will be peace and order problem. She said the conflict resulted not only in the looting of farms.
One concern, she said, is that “our children have to stop schooling.” The teachers, she noted, are afraid to come back since armed conflict began in January.
“We are trying our best to address the peace and order problem so our children can go back to school,” Alice added.
Children in the village go to Upper Tigason Elementary School, after Sitio Tigason in Barangay Dominorog in Talakag, a village across the Maridugao River.
Although teachers from the Department of Education run this school, Alice pointed out that this was not built by the government. The Joint Together Society, a Korean non-government organization, built it in early 2005.
While they already have a school catering the 10 villages, they still have no health center up to now, they are not enrolled to the government’s conditional cash transfer program, and not any of them belonged to the indigent program of Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (Philhealth), Alice added.
“We are out of the fence. If we will be driven away from here where will we go?” she added.
The couple has proposed that aside from sending troops, the government must also send development programs, starting with a survey of the lands to clarify territories.
“If they send troops, please don’t let them rendezvous with the parties to the conflict in Brgy. Mansilano, where the armed bandits led by Mamurak or Mama Orak, one of the two groups, are based,” Pondi said.
They have also asked that their area be recognized as a separate barangay and that Bumbaran will include them.
Pondi and his wife have pushed for local peace talks to be pursued to clarify which areas belonged to whom. Pondi said the government could also form a CAFGU (Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit) team among them, like what was done in the villages of Somugot and Frankfurt, both in Bumbaran.
“At least we will have legal firearms to protect ourselves,” he added, citing right now many of them bought makeshift or paltik guns.
“If the government intervenes, there will be hope,” he added. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)