Widows of slain Moro rebels, civilians air grief, anger in “listening session”

MAMASAPANO, Maguindanao (MindaNews/13 February) – The widows of slain Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters and the civilians killed in the January 25 encounter here aired their grief and anger as they try to move on with their lives.

Local and international non-government organizations (NGOs) from the cities of Cotabato and Davao held a “listening session” on Wednesday in Barangay Tukanalipao for the grieving widows, who also rejected calls for an all-out war against the MILF.

Mamasapano town is the site of last month’s deadly encounter between the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force, MILF and its breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and other private armed groups, according to officials.

Forty-four elite police commandos, 18 MILF fighters and at least three civilians were killed in the carnage that up to now continues to hog the media limelight.

The PNP-SAF operation targeted alleged Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, and his Filipino aide Abdul Basit Usman. Marwan was killed but Usman escaped, although reportedly wounded.

The NGOs’ listening sessions, which also include children, were held separately but simultaneously in different areas in Barangay Tukanalipao.

In between sobs, a widow of a fallen MILF fighter told the NGO workers that she was distressed because it appears in the media that her husband and the other fallen rebels were the “bad guys” in the whole picture.

“Our husbands only defended our community, they were attacked and now they are seen as the bad guys,” she said in Filipino.

Fifty-year old Bidarya Adam recalled her experience when the PNP-SAF members barged inside their shanty.

“Me and my eight grandchildren were all stunned seeing heavily armed soldiers in our home,” Adam said in the vernacular.

The soldiers she was talking about were actually PNP-SAF members.

Carmen Lauzon of Women Engaged in Action, who talked to Adam, retold her story.

“Her story was touching. She said they were held hostage because they were prevented from leaving, guns directed at them. They were stalled for the whole day. One of her children, a three-year old, suffered a stomach disorder since they were not allowed to eat,” Lauzon told reporters.

Shalom Alihan, an NGO worker from Sulu, quoted Adam as saying “that the SAF also butchered the family’s 18 chickens.”

The other widows the NGO workers talked to said “they were hurt because the attention were all focused on the 44 fallen SAF troopers and that they are entitled to all government benefits.”

The widows noted that “they only receive a pittance from the government.”

Lyca Therese Sarenas, Oxfam Philippines program manager for Women’s Rights and Gender Mainstreaming, said the event was a solidarity and listening mission led by women CSOs aimed at giving spaces for unheard voices of women civilians caught in the crossfire.

“This also aims to give venue for other voices and stakeholders in the Mamasapano incident because their voices have been unheard,” Sarenas said. “We want to surface their stories, we want others to know also their stories.”

The widows appealed to the public not to ignite the situation by calling for an all-out war.

“We Muslim women civilians are tired of war, we are the end losers in all these wars in our communities, please spare us, stop calling for war,” a widow said.

After the listening session, psycho-social interventions were also conducted for children, which allowed them to express their feelings through art and plays. (Ferdinandh Cabrera/MindaNews)