SHARIFF SAYDONA, Maguindanao (MindaNews/02 March) – Crossing rivers at nighttime with children and carabaos either on foot or aboard motorboats.
This was just one of the hardships that civilians displaced by intensified offensives against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) had to endure as they tried to avoid being hit by mortars on Saturday night as government forces closed in on suspected rebel positions.
The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) humanitarian agencies said some 28,500 individuals have fled to safer grounds since Friday when the military launched offensives against the BIFF in Mamasapano town.
Lenny Anayatin, 20, of this town’s Barangay Inaladan, recalled the miserable experience she had with her daughter and neighbors while fleeing at the middle of the night last Saturday.
“We were awakened by loud explosions near our village and our officials told us to move out quickly … we scampered … we ran,” said Anayatin, who gave birth in December.
In between sobs, Anayatin said she didn’t know what to do and what to bring when officials, in the middle of the night, told them to evacuate.
“We walked for three kilometers, crossed rivers in the middle of the night,” she said in between sobs, adding that a neighbor offered her a space in a motorboat “because I was carrying a baby.”
The boat was already loaded with children of other fleeing families.
Luckily for Anayatin, she found a space in the motorboat. In contrast, Bai Zahara Alim had to cross rivers with her three children and the family owned water buffalo.
Bai Zahara said she has become tired of all living a life on the run.
“All I am asking is a stop to all these atrocities in our communities,” Ali said in Filipino. “Since I was a child, my family had been in this situation. We flee, return home and rebuild our lives then we evacuate again, it is never ending,” she said crying.
Bai Zahara lamented this is also one of the reason why she was deprived of education, aside from being poor.
The war, she said, has worsened their poverty because they could not attend anymore to their farm due to being displaced from time to time.
Delmo Sali, another evacuee from Shariff Saydona, said he feared for his family and children who have to endure hasty evacuation.
“What the people are afraid of in our village is that we might be hit by bazooka (mortars). Those loud explosions annoy us,” he said. (Ferdinandh Cabrera)