More villagers flee after rumored BIFF presence

PIKIT, North Cotabato (MindaNews/22 Aug) – More villagers have left their homes due to the reported presence of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), as the number of families seeking temporary shelter in evacuation centers here rose to around 345 as of today (Wednesday).

Town Mayor Sumulong Sultan said the evacuation started late Monday night.

Evacuees from Lower Pagangan in Aleosan, North Cotabato prepare their dinner as they sought refuge at a madrasah in Barangay Nalapaan, Pikit on Tuesday, 21 August 2012. They evacuated for fear of a possible encounter after the military responded to reports of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters' presence in the area. MindaNews Photo
Evacuees from Lower Pagangan in Aleosan, North Cotabato prepare their dinner as they sought refuge at a madrasah in Barangay Nalapaan, Pikit on Tuesday, 21 August 2012. They evacuated for fear of a possible encounter after the military responded to reports of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters’ presence in the area. MindaNews Photo

But most of the villagers, who are from barangays of Bualan and Nalapaan in Pikit and Pagangan in neighboring Aleosan, started fleeing early Tuesday morning until noon.

“But this is not as massive like the previous wars. Only portions of the barangays, particularly those who are living near military detachments,” the mayor told Mindanews after his meeting with barangay officials in Nalapaan.

Sultan said there was information circulating that the BIFF members will attack military positions.

This has prompted barangay officials to order the villagers near the military detachments to move to safer grounds, he added.

Most of the evacuees are staying at the madrasah and at a high school in Barangay Batulawan while some are in Nalapaan Elementary School and Pagangan High School.

SANCTUARY. The Mangatog family eats breakfast inside a classroom in Pagangan High School in Aleosan, North Cotabato on Wednesday, August 22, 2012. Residents from at least 5 villages have fled for safety after unconfirmed reports of the presence of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters surfaced. MindaNews Photo by Ruby Thursday More
SANCTUARY. The Mangatog family eats breakfast inside a classroom in Pagangan High School in Aleosan, North Cotabato on Wednesday, August 22, 2012. Residents from at least 5 villages have fled for safety after unconfirmed reports of the presence of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters surfaced. MindaNews Photo by Ruby Thursday More

On Wednesday, the mayor ordered the Municipal Social Welfare and Development Office to validate the exact number of evacuees because it is not easy to track those who are living in houses of relatives.

In Aleosan, Mayor Loreto Cabaya told Mindanews that some villagers in barangays Pagangan, Bago Libas and Dungguan have evacuated as well. But those from Bago Libas and Dungguan preferred to live with relatives in neighboring barangays, he noted.

Two days after the reports of the presence of the BIFF have circulated, the military has not actually seen the rebels yet, Sultan pointed out.

He admitted that he received reports from some barangay officials that the BIFF members were already in Barangay Kabasalan. But when the military conducted a clearing operation in Kabasalan, they did not encounter the BIFF members, the mayor said.

“Maybe those rebels from Maguindanao were just passing through,” he opined.

Cabaya shared the same view, saying that the BIFF could be just passing through following the capture of their camp in Shariff Aguak in Maguindanao. But he admitted the presence of the BIFF in the periphery of his town, more particularly near the Liguasan Marsh.

The military has recently captured the BIFF’s lair after two weeks of operation.

Musanip Patadon, a farmer from Sitio Tubak in Barangay Pagangan, told Mindanews that they evacuated on Tuesday afternoon because most of their neighbors have already left even though he admitted not having seen BIFF rebels in their village.

“We left because the barangay kagawad also told us to leave,” he said.

Cabayan Malidas, a barangay kagawad of Batulawan, said that the evacuees continued to arrive even as late as 11 p.m. on Tuesday and even up to early morning of Wednesday.

Based on their initial records, the number of families staying at the madrasah grounds have already reached 275 families, excluding those who went to the high school and those staying along the highway near Barangay Tinibtiban, Malidas said.

Antonio Seloterio, principal of the Nalapaan Elementary School, said around 20 families are currently staying in the school. Because of the evacuees occupying the classrooms, classes have been temporarily suspended, he added.

“Besides, no students have come. Usually, they’re here as early as 6 a.m., then we would have our flag ceremony by now,” he told MindaNews around 7:30 a.m. Wednesday.

The evacuees, the school principal said, are from Nalapaan but living near the military detachment along the national highway.

In Pagangan High School, teacher George Antoniega said they also suspended classes because of the presence of the evacuees.

Antoniega said around 50 families have sought refuge in the school since Tuesday evening. These evacuees, too, are living near the military detachment along the Davao-Cotabato highway in Pagangan, the teacher added.

Evacuees need help

Meanwhile, Cabayan said the evacuees need food because many of them were not able to bring food as they left their homes hurriedly.

She added that the barangay has limited resources to provide food to the displaced villagers.

Naut Tutin, an evacuee from Sitio Tubak, said they have brought a few kilos of corn and chicken but these may not be enough to sustain their needs in case they stay longer in the evacuation centers. (Keith Bacongco / MindaNews)

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