COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/ 29 April) — Three women harvesting vegetables in a community garden were hit by shrapnel during a mortar shelling in Barangay Kitango, Datu Saudi Ampatuan town in Maguindanao at around 9 a.m. on Wednesday. Two of them died while one was rushed to a hospital.
Musib Tan, municipal administrator said Badria Alon, 40, and Lagabai Mohalidin, 24, were killed while 34-year old Noraisa Omar is recuperating in a hospital.
Residents in the area had fled their villages last month to avoid getting caught in the crossfire between government forces and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and had just recently returned home from the evacuation centers.
Rhidz Khan posted on his Facebook account photos of the slain victims who were his neighbors. He said they are facing more difficulties during this Ramadan because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the armed conflict.
Earlier on Wednesday morning, Guiamel Alim, chair of the Council of Elders of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society (CBCS) appealed to local government leaders, military leaders and leaders of the Bangsamoro region to conduct a dialogue to ensure the protection of civilians amid the fragile situation in the area.
Alim issued his appeal in a radio interview with Brigada News FM, a few hours before the mortar shelling in Datu Saudi Ampatuan town.
In the same news platform, Lt. Col. John Paul Baldomar, said they could do nothing but fire back at the enemies who were allegedly attacking them.
As part of the peace agreement between government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a Joint Peace and Security Team (JPST) was supposed to be set up in Kitango on Thursday, April 29, in the same area where the BIFF violently opposed and fought hard, claiming the land is owned by their top leader, Kagi Karialan.
The JPST is a peacekeeping force comprised of decommissioned MILF members, Philippine Army and Philippine National Police personnel to provide security to residents inside the six MILF camps recognized by the government.
Tension remained high as of Wednesday evening as relentless explosions and gunfire continued.
The Community Organizers Multiversity (COM), a non-governmental organization, organized internally displaced persons in the SPMS box of Maguindanao last month to address this pressing concern of civilians caught in situations of armed conflict.
SPMS refers to the town of Shariff Aguak, Pagatin (Datu Saudi Ampatuan), Mamasapano and Datu Salibo.
The group is pushing for an Internally Displaced Persons Rights law or IDP law to ensure protection of civilians especially during evacuations.
“We are pushing for civilian protection mechanisms set up by representatives of civilians itself, local government units and non-governmental organizations that track down and document cases of displacements,” said Evhoy Villaruel, Mindanao coordinator of COM.
Lawyer Laisa Alamia, Minority Floor Leader of the Bangsamoro Parliament, had earlier filed an IDP bill “to protect those who are vulnerable to recurrent disasters, violence, or armed conflict while providing additional protection for those with socioeconomic vulnerabilities.”
Displacement, she said, has effects that are felt not only during and after its occurrence, but also during the often difficult process of return, local integration, or resettlement.
The bill also highlights and responds to the need to institutionalize mechanisms that will systematically address the specific needs of IDPs, while reducing the risks and possibility of future displacements.
The slain women were buried before dusk, in accordance with Islamic rites. (Ferdinandh Cabrera / MindaNews)