KAURAN, Ampatuan, Maguindanao (MindaNews/29 December) – Civilians in this farming village have armed themselves in anticipation of more attacks by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
On Monday, civilian farmers who call themselves “Christian settlers,” said they opted to carry guns “to defend ourselves and our communities.”
At night, they would remain awake to guard residents who have left their homes in the peripheries and flocked to the village center due to fear of another attack.
At daytime, they would take turns in taking a nap or tending their farms for a few hours.
On Christmas Eve, an attack by around 300 heavily armed BIFF rebels left six farmers in Kauran and four others in neighboring villages in neighboring provinces dead.
“This is too much. Who will protect us especially at night but ourselves only,” a fortyish farmer said, brandishing his M-16 Armalite rifle. Like other farmers, he asked not to be named.
“We mourn the death of our six village mates. Our farmers want freedom, our farmers just wanted to till the lands to feed their families and send the children to school,” another armed man said, his face showing signs of lack of sleep.
“We have information they may attack again. This time we are ready, we cannot let them kill us doing nothing to defend ourselves,” a man in black shirt and armed with an M-16 declared.
After the December 24 attack, male villagers would remain in their communities while the children and women move to the village hall at night. Others have gone to their relatives in nearby towns in Sultan Kudarat province.
At night, armed male villagers would patrol the village’s periphery, and sometimes trade shots with armed men.
A village councilman said it really pained him to see the relatives of the victims. “They were all bread winners, they were unarmed, they were ordinary farmers, their families are now orphaned,” he told reporters.
“It’s Christmas. It really hurts when we are supposed to celebrate. Now we are mourning the loss of our loved ones,” said a sister of a slain farmer.
“Worse, the BIFF rebels were sniping at us as we retrieved the dead bodies. How heartless,” she said.
One of the six persons killed in Kauran was a Balik-Islam Muslim. His decomposing body was seen three days after the attack in a bamboo plantation and bore torture marks. His throat was slit.
A woman relative of the victim asked, “So where are those defending the human rights?
The victim’s family said he was wrongly tagged as a Cafgu member when he was just a farmer. He was in his farm to spray pesticide on black bugs when the attack took place.
On Monday, the Humanitarian Emergency Assistance Response Team of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development distributed relief goods to displaced families, including a check worth P10,000 for each family that lost a member.
The provincial government distributed another P10,000 cash and a sack of rice for the family of each dead farmer.
Maj. Gen. Mayoralgo dela Cruz, Western Mindanao Command chief, who attended the turnover rites Monday for the new 1st Mechanized Brigade commander, said they will launch a counter-offensive to stop the atrocities.
Dela Cruz was once assigned as chief of the 1st Mechanized Brigade in 2012 in Shariff Aguak town where he engaged the BIFF.
“As long as there are groups that harass our helpless civilians, we will hold the attackers responsible and accountable. We will not allow them to go on with senseless killings,” Dela Cruz told reporters. (Ferdinandh Cabrera/MindaNews)