How VHF amateur radio enthusiasts helped stop escalation of conflict in Lanao del Sur

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CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 03 March) — At the height of the hostilities in Lanao del Sur last week, hundreds of VHF amateur radio enthusiasts prevented further escalation of the conflict by going on air spreading information or dispelling rumors.

Ayub Saripada, public information officer of Saksi, the biggest amateur radio group in Lanao del Sur said their 1,000 plus members were monitoring closely the developments of the fighting when they learned that Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) commander Abdurahman Macapaar aka Commander Bravo issued a crucial statement on February 23.

In that interview, first aired by DXKP, a local TV and radio station, Bravo said he and his forces were not involved in the fighting in Butig town and the ambush of a military convoy in Balindong town, all in Lanao del Sur.
In the videotaped interview, Bravo said the MILF is not involved in the fighting in Lanao del Sur. “Hindi po kasali dyan ang MILF” (The MILF is not involved there), he said.

He also belied reports that he had joined the armed group responsible for the attacks. “Tapat po ako sa MILF dahil ang emir po ng MILF si Al Haj Murad Ebrahim ay ang sinsusunod ay si Allah at ang Prophet Muhammad” (I am loyal to the MILF because our Emir, Al Haj Murad Ebrahim follows Allah and the Prophet Muhammad), Bravo said.

Saripada said their group leaped on the chance to help and their members quickly made use of the base radios and smaller ICOM sets to relay the message on air.

Ham VHF radios are the chief mode of communications in Marawi City and Lanao del Sur province where mobile phone signals are weak.

“Kahit na uminit ang aming mga radio sets, sige pa rin kami kasi alam naming napaka importante ang statement ni Bravo ,” Saripada told MindaNews.

The relay of information was so timely and was credited by the government and the MILF for averting a possible escalation of the hostilities last week.

“Maganda ang ginawa ni Commander Bravo. Nakatulong talaga” (What Commander Bravo did is good. It really helped defuse tension), Von Al Haq, MILF spokesperson and member of the general staff of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) told MindaNews.

He said the armed group led by the Maute brothers made several attempts to draw the MILF into the hostilities by running to the MILF camps when pursued by government troops.

“Bravo’s statement had a calming effect on a very tense situation. Everyone realized he was not breaking the ceasefire between the MILF and the government,”  Army Brig. Gen. Glen Macasero, head of the government’s Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) said.

Macasero told MindaNews the spread of this vital information helped dispel rumors that were circulating that Bravo will join the hostilities.

Macasero said the last skirmish between the military and the Maute group happened last Sunday in Butig town.

But a total of 7,479 families from Butig town are still wary to go back to their homes and are staying in the homes of their relatives and some schools in Marawi City and nine towns in Lanao del Sur.

As of March 2, the Department of Social Welfare and Development Agency in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) said the families displaced are: 2,035 in Butig town; 2,997 in Marawi City; 968 in Buadipuso Buntong; 370 in Lumbayanague; 278 in Ditsaan Ramain; 461 in Sultan Dumalondong; ten in Maguing; 250 in Tamparan; and 30 in Balindong town.

The Army said  three of their soldiers while at least 21 members of the Maute armed group were killed in the two weeks of fighting. (Froilan O. Gallardo / MindaNews)

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