ARMM appeals to military, Abu for “safe zones” for evacuees

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/10 Sept) — The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is appealing to the military and the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu to allow for “safe zones” for 20,000 evacuees or internally displaced persons (IDPs) where they can “temporarily reside and pray without fear” particularly as the Islamic world celebrates Eid’l Adha (feast of the Sacrifice) on September 12.

“Given the current situation in Sulu and in light of the importance of Eid’l Adha to the Muslim people, the ARMM regional government would like to appeal to both state and non-state forces who are parties to the conflict to allow internally displaced persons who remain in close proximity to the areas to move to more secure locations, and to assign safe zones where civilians affected by the conflict can temporarily reside and pray without fear,” ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman said in a statement on September 9.

Evacuation site in Barangay Latih in Patikul, Sulu. Photo courtesy of Jo Henry / ARMM-HEART
Evacuation site in Barangay Latih in Patikul, Sulu. Photo courtesy of Jo Henry / ARMM-HEART

Hataman said Sulu has been bearing the brunt of law enforcement and military operations against the Abu Sayyaf “for more than a month now, following a series of kidnappings and the beheading of two hostages.”

“The conflict is expected to continue even as we anticipate the day of Eid’l Adha, a day that is supposedly a time of prayer and celebration for Muslims,” Hataman said.

President Rodrigo Duterte on September 5 issued Proclamation 56, declaring Eid’l Adha on September 12, a national holiday. A day earlier, he signed Proclamation 55, declaring a State of National Emergency on account of lawless violence in Mindanao, citing among other reasons “the death of 15 soldiers in a skirmish with the Abu Sayyaf Group in Patikul, Sulu on 30 August 2016.”

“We also ask for all parties to allow for humanitarian assistance to reach those who need it the most, and to ensure that the rights and welfare of civilians are protected, following clearly-defined obligations under international humanitarian law,” Hataman added.

“Safer zones”

Amir Mawallil, chief of the ARMM’s Bureau of Public Information told MindaNews that the appeal for a humanitarian corridor is also for the local government units “to help identify strategic safer zones” other than the current evacuation sites “for Eid’l Adha celebration, perhaps an area where they can have their congregational prayer for Eid without having to think if they’re safe or not.”

He said some evacuees return to their places of origin at daytime but spend the night at their evacuation sites.

A total of 3,975 families or 19,763 residents in five of Sulu’s 19 towns have been displaced by the Duterte administration’s war against the Abu Sayyaf as of 8 a.m. on September 5, according to the Disaster Risk Reducation and Management (DRMM) of Sulu.

The affected towns are Patikul with 1,122 families or 5,068 persons displaced; Maimbung with 1,321 families or 6,099 persons displaced; Indanan with 400 families or 1,744 persons; Parang with 1,113 families or 6,679 persons and Panamao with 29 families or 174 persons.

ARMM Vice Governor Haroun Alrashid Lucman Jr., led the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the evacuees on September 5 with the assistance of Sulu Governor Abdusakur “Totoh” Tan II and Director Ramil Masukat of the Regional Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office and ARMM – Humanitarian Emergency Action and Response Team (ARMM-HEART).

“We closely coordinated with the provincial government of Sulu to ensure the safety of our constituents,” Lucman was quoted as saying in a press release from the ARMM-HEART.

“Destroy them”

Duterte last month ordered the military and police to seek out the Abu Sayyaf and destroy them.

“Seek them out in their lairs and destroy them… Ang mga Abu Sayyaf destroy them, period,” Duterte said in a midnight press conference, hours after the Abu Sayyaf beheaded an 18-year old Patrick James Almodovar of Sulu, son of a court stenographer who was kidnapped by the terrorist group on July 16, for failing to pay a million peso ransom the group demanded.

“That’s why I am sending the troops there and tell them to destroy (the Abu Sayyaf,” Duterte said in a press conference outside a seafood restaurant here after a near midnight dinner on August 24, with soldiers bound for Sulu.

“My orders to the police and armed forces against all enemies of the state: Seek out, seek them out in their lairs, whatever and destroy them. Ang mga droga destroy them. Ang mga Abu Sayyaf, destroy them. Period.”

Duterte is the fifth Philippine President to attempt to destroy the Abu Sayyaf. Former Presidents Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Benigno Simeon Aquino III had attempted to do the same but the Abu Sayyaf has remained, its kidnapping and other terror acts even worse than before.

Asked how different his war against the Abu Sayyaf will be from the previous administrations’, Duterte replied: “I’ll be harsh. But mind you, it’s not just a campaign-campaign. Go out and destroy them. So patay kung ano yan. Wag na kayong magtanong human rights. Even sa drugs.”

In a statement on April 26, a multisectoral group, Save Sulu Movement (SSM), said the recent order of President Rodrigo Duterte to “destroy the Abu Sayyaf” is “only good for the headlines but will definitely not work in the jungles of Sulu.”

Instead, it appealed to Duterte to “first disarm the local politicians in Sulu” from Governor down to the lowest barangay official if he wants to win the fight against the terrorist group.

“Much as we want President Duterte to succeed, the recent order to destroy the Abu Sayyaf is nothing new. We have heard those fiery words before but these were only good for the headlines and will definitely not work in the jungles of Sulu. If the President is seriously bent (on) destroying the (Abu Sayyaf), he must listen to the voices of the ordinary people of Sulu who genuinely want him to succeed,” SSM convenor Temogen “Cocoy” Tulawie said.

“Disarm the local politicians and you will succeed where the previous Presidents have failed,” the SSM said.

The SSM said their recommendation to the Duterte is not new but “has long been there but buried deep underneath because of unholy alliances and patronage politics in the past between Malacanan and traditional politicians in Sulu.”

Sulu Governor Abudsakur Tan II dismissed the allegations. He said “nagpapapansin lang yan” (Tulawie just wants to be noticed). Tulawie ran for Governor against Tan.

The group which Tulawie claimed is a grassroots-based movement, said disarming the local politicians is the key towards winning the fight against the Abu Sayyaf because doing so will be “akin to the strategy of removing the water at which the fish swims.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)