Residents flee to avoid possible clashes between AFP and BIFF

PIKIT, North Cotabato  (MindaNews/22 August) – About a hundred families from two barangays in Pikit and three barangays in Aleosan towns, fled their homes Tuesday to avoid possible clashes between armed men believed to be members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and government forces.

Pikit Mayor Sumulong Sultan, however, said the evacuations could have been triggered by “disinformation” as the BIFF’s presence in these areas has not been confirmed.

Along the national highway in Barangay Dalingaoen, MindaNews saw residents of  Barangay Tubak in neighboring Aleosan town on their way to evacuation camps in Barangay Batulawan here, about a kilometer away. There was a father riding on a carabao, his son,  barely three years old standing behind him, holding on to his shoulders, their sled loaded with belongings. Another carabao-pulled sled carried chickens and ducks.

“We are going to Barangay Batulawan,” one  of the “bakwits,” the popular term for evacuees or internally displaced persons (IDPs) here.

Farmer Abdul Mangulanas told Mindanews that they fled Barangay Tubak at around  1 p.m. when government forces arrived in response to the reported presence of the BIFF.  Some residents started evacuating at 10 a.m.

The BIFF broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in March 2010. It went high profile in the early part of 2011 but was not heard of after its founder, former MILF commander Ustadz Amiril Umra Kato, suffered a stroke in November 2011. On August 5,  however, on the eve of the resumption of the peace talks between government and the MILF in Kuala Lumpur, the BIFF launched attacks on at least five military detachments along the national highway in Maguindanao, prompting military operations in pursuit of the armed group.

Fear of clashes

Mangulanas said they did not see the armed men but decided to leave for fear there would be clashes between the armed men and the military.

As of  5:30pm, the “bakwits” were still in Dalingaoen, about a kilometer away from their evacuation camp in Batulawan.

Mangulanas said they evacuated when the military arrived, upon orders of their barangay officials.

Aleosan Mayor Loreto Cabaya confirmed receiving reports that several residents have fled  barangays Tubak, Bagolibas and Pagangan for the evacuation camp in Batulaawan but they have yet to determine the number of families.

In an interview over radio station DXND,  Pikit mayor Sultan confirmed that some residents in Bualan and Nalapaan started evacuating to Batulawan  Tuesday morning.

The two barangays are adjacent to Tubak.

Sumulong said he received reports of alleged presence of  BIFF members in the remote villages but believes it was just a “disinformation”  because the military had not actually seen the armed men.
“Bago ko lang nakausap ang military, galing sila sa loob, wala naman daw silang nakita. Kaya baka ito ay disinformation lamang” (I just spoke with the military. They came from the interiors. They didn’t see armed men. That’s why this must be disinformation), Sultan said.

He added somebody must have spread information among residents that  the BIFF would attack military detachments, prompting residents living near the military outposts to evacuate to avoid getting caught in a crossfire.

The mayor estimates that at least 30 families had fled Bualan and Nalapaan.

In Dalingaoen, farmer Nasser Mangansakan told MindaNews that as early as Monday evening, he had prepared their belongings for evacuation should anything happen.

Mangansakan admitted receiving reports that the BIFF would attack police outposts along the national highway.

His house is located some 500 meters away from a police outpost.

“Pero dili pa kami magbakwit hantud walay buto-buto, pero andam na kami” (But we will not evacuate until there is an actual encounter), he added.

At around  5:45 pm, the “bakwits” from Tubak and Lower Pagangan were still walking toward Barangay Batulawan.

MindaNews counted at least 20 families fleeing on foot, on board tricycles and carabao-pulled sleds.

At the Madrasah in Barangay Nalapaan, a barangay kagawad told MindaNews that around 50 families are temporarily staying there. (Keith Bacongco/ MindaNews)