Fighting between MILF leaders displaces 2K families

By Edwin Fernandez

June 8, 2020, 4:35 pm

<p>Google map of Pikit, North Cotabato.</p>

Google map of Pikit, North Cotabato.

COTABATO CITY – Skirmishes involving factions belonging to Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) displaced 2,611 families in several remote villages in Pikit, North Cotabato, on Sunday.

Displaced villagers, consisting of 10,829 individuals, fled to safer grounds after armed clashes between MILF commander Ricky Hussein and ex-commander Butch Sanday, who allegedly leads a band of armed men, the Pikit social welfare office reported on Monday.

Colonel Henry Villar, North Cotabato police director, said government efforts are underway to put an end to the hostilities between the two factions, which are locked in a land dispute in Barangay Talitay, Pikit town.

Sanday, a former MILF brigade commander, was kicked out from his position in April for attacking communities in nearby Pagalungan, Maguindanao, where Hussein was based.

He formed his own band of armed followers and continued harassing the group of Hussein.

“They have been trading bullets since last week,” Villar said in a radio interview Monday.

Pikit Mayor Sumulong Sultan said the warring groups were earlier pacified by local elders but fighting sparked anew on Sunday. He said MILF emissaries are on their way to talk to the quarreling sides.

The Pikit Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (MDRRMO) said that the displaced families, mostly women, and children, are now housed in various evacuation centers in the town proper.

The “rido” (family feud) involving Commander Sandy and Commander Hussein dates back to 10 years ago when both leaders and their families started claiming ownership of parcels of lands in Barangay Talitay, bordering the towns of Pikit and Pagalungan in Maguindanao.

While the parties squabble over the lands, both could not produce documents to indicate legal ownership over the disputed properties.

North Cotabato Governor Nancy Catamco has vowed to settle the warring families so the internally displaced persons (IDPs) could return home as soon as possible.

Most of the affected families came from the villages that are now under the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

Twenty-three villages from Pikit have opted to join the BARMM in a plebiscite in February last year.

On the same day the fighting broke out, the BARMM Ministry of Social Services and Development (MSSD) said it delivered 133 sacks of rice to 52 families staying at an evacuation center in Barangay Batulawan, and 81 home-based IDPs in Barangay Balabak, both in Pikit.

The Pikit DSWD also reported that an undetermined number of families from nearby Pagalungan town have also been displaced by the skirmishes.

At least 135 small houses in Barangays Nunguan (40 houses), Balungis (4 houses), and Balatukan (91 houses) have also been torched by the warring families. In a statement, the MSSD said it will continue to provide social protection to the evacuees.

The MSSD said the IDPs, especially those living in cramped evacuation centers, often have limited access to food and water. They also have difficulty accessing livelihood opportunities, health facilities, and education services.

MSSD Minister Raissa Jajurie was quoted as saying that the MSSD shall provide special attention to the more vulnerable segments of the IDP population.

“Women, the elderly, infants and young children, and differently-abled persons face multiple health and safety risks, and are more vulnerable to diseases like the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19),” the MSSD said in a report.

The MSSD has called for an end to armed conflict that forces people to flee, saying that persistent violence is an additional burden to communities plagued by uncertainty and economic hardship due to the Covid-19 crisis. (PNA)