Armed conflict displaces 900 Lumad families in South Upi, Maguindanao

DAVAO CITY (Mindanews /02 June) –  Hundreds of Lumads (Indigenous Peoples) displaced by an armed conflict and presently taking shelter in evacuation sites in South Upi, Maguindanao are in urgent need of food, water, face masks and other basic needs.

Froilyn Mendoza, Executive Director of the Teduray-Lambangian Women’s Organisation (TLWOI) on Sunday called on government and humanitarian agencies for food and non-food assistance as well as face mask, water stations and  disinfectants as physical distancing is a challenge in evacuation sites especially in the time of COVID-19.

Residents of 13 sitios in Barangay Kuya, South Upi, Maguindanao, seek shelter in a covered court to avoid getting caught in a crossfire between warring forces. Photo courtesy of FROILYN MENDOZA

Mendoza told MindaNews Monday evening that a total of 647 households from 13 sitios in Barangay Kuya evacuated.

The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao-Rapid Emergency and Disaster Response (BARMM-READi) delivered relief assistance in South Upi on Monday. It listed a total of  898 displaced families – 598 families or 2,990 individuals in eight evacuation sites in Barangay Kuya and 300 families in Barangays Pilar and Pandan.

Mendoza said that from 598 , the number of families reached 647 by Monday evening.

The Protection Cluster Philippines on Sunday reported that an armed encounter between government forces and non-state actors in Barangay Kuya on May 29  triggered the mass evacuation. It also noted that “unresolved and continuing tensions over land continue to affect residents.”

The BARMM-READi delivered relief goods to the evacuees in South Upi, Maguindanao on Monday, 01 June 2020. Photo courtesy of BARMM-READi

Mendoza told MindaNews that this is not the first time the residents fled their villages because of conflict over land. In the past two years, residents have repeatedly evacuated.

She explained that the issue involves landgrabbing, harassment of IP farmers such as being fired at or  pointed a gun to.

“Ang medyo malaki ay yung May 29 ng 8 am ng magkasagupa ang AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) at etong mga MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) then yung 1 p.m. malalakas na putokan na ang narinig at naglikas nga yung 13 sitios affected, nasa covered court ngayon ng Barangay Kuya” (The big one was on May 29 at around 8 a.m. when the AFP and MILF clashed and at around 1 p.m. the gunfire was intense that’s why residents in the 13 sitios evacuated to the covered court in Barangay Kuya).

Lt. Col. Edgardo Vilchez, commander of the Joint Task Force Central and spokesperson of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division told MindaNews on Tuesday that  “the clash is between feuding families – MILF-affiliated groups and Betita Clan.”

“As of yesterday (Monday), we were validating this mass evacuation report because they are also fighting  back having their own private armed groups,” Vilchez said.

Hot meals for the evacuees of South Upi, Maguindanao on 02 June 2020 from the Teduray-Lambangian Women’s Organziaiton, Inc. Photo by FROILYN MENDOZA

Mendoza said armed men affiliated with the MILF claimed the area is theirs
“but this is a traditional area of the IP and is part of our ancestral domain claim.”

She said the reports describe them as armed group but “they are MILF.”MindaNews asked Timuay Melanio Ulama, Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs of  the  Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao on the issue but he has yet to respond. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews