Army: Still unsafe for Butig folk to return

A soldiers walks past a bombed-out mosque in Butig, Lanao del Sur after government troops retook Butig town from the Maute group. MindaNews photo by Froilan Gallardo
A soldier walks past a bombed-out mosque in Butig, Lanao del Sur after government troops retook Butig town from the Maute group. MindaNews photo by Froilan Gallardo

BUTIG, Lanao del Sur (MindaNews/03 December) — Several unexploded ordnance had been recovered in this town and many more could still be left lying on the ground making it unsafe for residents to return to their homes, an Army official said Friday.

Col. Roseller Murillo, commander of the 103rd Infantry Brigade said that for this reason they advised the provincial government of Lanao del Sur not to allow the return of Butig residents yet.

Teams of Army ordnance disposal experts were seen looking for bombs and unexploded ordnance Friday, after a week-long operation against the Maute group that occupied the town since Nov. 26.

“We have collected more than a hundred unexploded shells so far. We do not know how many more are left lying on the field,” an ordnance specialist told MindaNews.

Journalists who entered the town starting last Wednesday found most of its buildings damaged by the fighting.

The fences of many houses and buildings bore the graffiti of the Maute group.

Several houses have hastily-dug foxholes where the Maute fighters positioned themselves against government troops.

The soldiers who first entered the town last Sunday found a flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria flying on the pole of the old abandoned town hall.

Many residents, however, refused to flee even as fighting raged last weekend.

Among those who chose to remain in their houses were “Aileen” and her family.

She said she and her neighbors did not leave fearing their houses would be ransacked. They just dropped on the floor as soldiers and Maute members who were hiding in fortified positions only a hundred meters from their concrete house in Barangay Bayabao exchanged fire.

“I was scared that somebody will steal everything from my houses. So I stayed with my children inside our house and stayed indoors through out the fighting,” Aileen told Mindanews.

“If we leave, our chickens and goats will no longer be here when we come back. Somebody will steal them,” she narrated.

“Aileen” asked that her identify be hidden for fear of reprisal from the Maute group.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development said some 2,450 families or 12,500 persons from eight barangays have fled the fighting in Butig.

Following Maranao tradition, most of those who fled stayed in the houses of relatives in adjoining towns rather than live in schools.

27-year-old Kamal Kiram said members of the Maute group knocked on their doors and roused them from sleep in the wee hours on Nov. 26.

“They told us to pack our belongings and evacuate because there will be fighting soon,“ Kiram said.

He said they waited till daybreak to flee to the house of “Aileen” where they felt they could be safe.

Murillo said the Maute group may have known in advance that they would be attacked by government troops when they (Army) notified the Moro Islamic Liberation Front through the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group or and the MILF Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities.

He said it was necessary to inform their MILF counterparts to avoid a repetition of what happened in Mamasapano, Maguindanao in January 2015 where 44 personnel of the police Special Action Force died in a raid on international terror suspect Zulkifli Abdhir alias Marwan.

“It is necessary otherwise we would also incur the same number of casualties if we did not informe these bodies. It’s a small price to pay,” he explained.

That’s why the offensive against the Maute group had to be delayed for a day.

The military said 45 Maute members died in the seven days of fighting but no bodies have been recovered.

At least 22 soldiers were wounded, 11 of them members of the Army Light Reaction Company. (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)