DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/11 March) – The number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) or bakwits (evacuees) in 11 of 36 towns in Maguindanao due to the military operations against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) has reached 14,517 families or 72,585 persons, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao’s Humanitarian Emergency Action and Response Team (ARMM-HEART) reported as of 6 p.m. on March 10.
A day earlier, ARMM-HEART reported the number of evacuees from the same towns at 12,920 families or 64,600 persons.
Mamasapano town posted the highest number of bakwits at 2,637 families, followed by Datu Salibo at 2,119; Shariff Saydona at 1,864; Shariff Aguak at 1,582; Datu Saudi Ampatuan at 1,329; Talayan at 1,195; Datu Anggal Midtimbang at 1,101; Guindulungan at 939; Talitay at 712; Rajah Buayan hosting 255; and Datu Unsay at 175.
ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman is leading the distribution of relief goods to the 11 towns on Wednesday, March 11, under “Tabang Sibilyan” (Help Civilians).
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), has a higher number: 16,111 families or 80,555 persons affected in the towns of Mamasapano, Pagalungan, Datu Salibo, Shariff Saydona, Datu Unsay, Shariff Aguak, Rajah Buayan, Datu Hofer and Datu Saudi Ampatuan in Maguindanao and Pikit in North Cotabato, as of March 6, according to its most recently uploaded report dated March 7.
Out of these affected families, 15,058 families or 75,290 persons are internally displaced, it said.
According to the same report, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has spent P16,628,867.60 worth of relief goods for the IDPs from February 9 to 23 during the clashes between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and from February 25 when Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang launched his “all-out offensive” against the BIFF.
Catapang on February 25 ordered the Western Mindanao Command to coordinate with the Philippine National Police in a joint law enforcement operation against the BIFF purportedly to “protect the communities.”
“I am saddened by the news that at least 20,000 people had been displaced by the violent attacks perpetrated by the BIFF in the hinterland villages. We will do our best to protect the people and allow them to go back to their homes,” GMA News quoted him as saying. The 20,000 he was refererng to was apparently the number of persons due to the BIFF-MILF conflict.
But the “all-out offensive” against the BIFF which started on February 27, triggered mass evacuations of triple that number in 11 towns in 12 days.
The NDRRMC figures, posted on March 7, does not say how many evacuees had returned home.
The Protection Cluster Philippines and UN High Commissioner on Refugees in its IDP Protection Assessment Report, Issue No. 7 noted that as of March 10, there are 68,354 persons displaced in Maguindanao (68,019) and Pikit in North Cotabato province (355) from the skirmishes between the MILF and BIFF and later between the military and the BIFF.
It said that in the displacement due to MILF-BIFF conflict, that a total of 6,383 families or 34,925 persons were displaced, of whom 5,630 families or 31,171 persons had returned home while 753 families or 3,754 persons have not.
In the conflict between the military and the BIFF, a total of 12,920 families or 64,600 persons have been displaced, of whom 12,538 families or 62,690 persons are inside evacuation centers while 382 families or 1,910 persons are outside evacuation centers.
“As of this posting, another armed encounter took place in the interior of Barangay Dapiawan Datu Saudi Ampatuan municipality and Barangay Pamalian, Shariff Saydona municipality. Community residents of Barangay Lower Masigay, Datu Salibo municipality evacuated to national highway,” the Protection Cluster said in its 6:04 p.m. posting on March 10.
MindaNews asked Capt. Jo-Ann Petingly, chief of the Public Affairs Office of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division in Camp Siongco, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao, how many combatants had been killed and wounded since Catapang’s “all-out offensive” declaration. Television reports had said at least 70 members of the BIFF had been killed but did not say how many bodies were accounted for.
Petingaly’s reply: “As per consolidated reports, there are about 70 plus BIFF killed.” But only four bodies of the BIFF were accounted for in the 12-day operations, she said.
On the part of the military, six soldiers were killed and 23 others wounded.
“We are hoping to finish the operation the soonest para makabalik na din po ang mga mamamayan sa kanilang mga tahanan” (so the residents can return to their homes), Petinglay added. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)