DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 02 March 2015) – The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao’s Humanitarian Emergency Action and Response Team (ARMM-HEART) has recorded at least 54,370 internally displaced persons (IDPS) or “bakwits” in at least nine towns in Maguindanao province due to armed conflict.
The province has 36 towns.
According to ARMM-HEART’s Situation Report 03-02A, at least 8,149 families or 41,720 residents from five towns were displaced by the military’s “all-out offensive” launched February 25 against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
(The report, released Monday night, totaled 30,130 but counting the figures per town, the number of displaced from the military operations against the BIFF is actually 41,720 in five days).
Add to this number the ARMM-HEART’s record of displaced residents from Pagalungan as of February 27: 1,900 families and 400 from Datu Montawal town or 12,650 residents (at an estimated 5.5 persons per family) from the recent fighting between the BIFF and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the total number of displaced persons in Maguindanao is 54,270.
ARMM-HEART records show that as of March 2, a total of 41,720 persons were displaced from the towns of Mamasapano (13,185), Datu Salibo (10,595 persons), Shariff Saydona (9,205), Shariff Aguak (6,365), Datu Unsay (875).
The two host towns — Rajah Buayan and Datu Hoffer – are hosting 1,250 persons while Datu Hoffer town is hosting 245 from neighboring areas.
ARMM-HEART’s report as of February 27 said at least 1,900 bakwit families remained in Pagalungan and 400 in Montawal town in the aftermath of the BIFF-MILF clashes. The evacuees were about to return to their villages following clearing operations by the military and the MILF last Monday but they opted against returning following the announcement of an “all-out offensive” by Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang on Wednesday.
As of March 2, the bakwits of Pagalungan and Montawal had not returned home.
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 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 “all-out offensive” triggered mass evacuations of double that number in five days in the five towns and two host towns where the military launched its operations.
The ARMM-HEART also reported that classes in five elementary schools and one high school in Datu Unsay had been called off due to the skirmishes while 31 elementary and high schools in Datu Salibo, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Shariff Aguak and Shariff Saydona, neighboring municipalities potentially affected if the skirmishes expand — are on “red alert” status — affecting a total of 17,790 students.
An earlier report by the Protection Cluster in the Philippines on the MILF-BIFF clashes dated February 25 reported 6,241 families or 34,307 persons inside and outside evacuation centers who were displaced in the towns of Pagalungan, Montawal and Sultan Sa Barongis in Maguindanao and Pikit in North Cotabato.
The report showed 11,682 IDPs in Pagalungan; 2,340 in Datu Montawal and 3,285 in Sultan Sa Barongis, and 17,000 in Pikit, North Cotabato. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)