Armed men torch houses in Maguindanao; fire razes classrooms in NorthCot

KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews/5 January)– Fear has gripped a village in Datu Montawal, Maguindanao as a group of armed men torched Thursday night three houses made of light material located just 20 meters away from a police outpost, according to a resident.


Datu Abdullah Pandita, a resident of Datu Montawal, said they were roused from sleep and saw other villagers run for safety as their shanties were being razed to the ground at around 10 p.m.


Though no one was hurt in the burning incident, it sent residents into panic, Pandita said.


The incident came a month after a lull in the armed fighting between warring political clans in Datu Montawal.


According to Pandita, two clans are at odds in the town: one group is connected to the family of Datu Montawal Mayor Datu Uttoh Montawal, and the other is connected to the family of Datu Montawal Vice Mayor Mohalidin Bao.


Both are running for the town’s mayoral post in the coming elections.


Pandita, however, believed the armed clashes in his town are “beyond politics.”


“The families whose members were [allegedly] killed by Datu Andy Montawal, younger brother of Montawal Mayor Datu Uttoh Montawal, want to avenge their deaths. They are seeking justice,” said Pandita.


Datu Andy, former president of the Association of Barangay Captains in Datu Montawal, is facing several cases, including rape and murder.


Pandita said that Datu Andy has been seen roaming around the town but the policemen did not arrest him despite the warrants issued against the suspect.


He also claimed that Datu Andy is leading a group allegedly to harass residents of Poblacion and other villages nearby.


Mayor Montawal had earlier denied accusations that he is securing in his residence his younger brother.  He also denied it was his group that led the attack in the Poblacion.


The sporadic fighting that started in Datu Montawal since October last year has already displaced thousands of villagers, reports said.


Meanwhile in Kabacan, North Cotabato, fire also gutted three classrooms, including the principal’s office, of the Kilagasan Elementary School in Barangay Kilagasan at around 8:15 p.m. on Thursday.


Inspector Ibrahim Guiamad, Kabacan municipal fire marshal, hinted that faulty electrical wiring could have caused the fire.


He said that hours before the incident, an electrician has done some calibrations in the school’s electrical wirings.   Also, he hinted an overloaded power supply could have caused the fire.


“This might be caused by some negligence on the part of the electrician or whoever did the calibration of the electrical wirings in the school.  We also saw an overloaded power supply here,” Guiamad told media in Kabacan.


The fire in Kabacan was the second in North Cotabato in January.


On New Year’s Day, fire gutted a house and an internet café in Makilala town located just a block away from the fire station.  (Malu Cadelina Manar/MindaNews)