Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) air and ground strike operations in Liguasan Marsh, Maguindanao during the recent Ramadhan displaced 1,716 people or 208 families, a Moro human rights alliance said.
Cotabato-based Kawagib said the AFP claimed that the attacks targeted ISIS members in the area but merely disrupted the lives of Moros instead, particularly in Barangay Dalgan in Pagalungan town.
Kawagib and other Moro and human rights groups said they conducted a fact-finding mission last June 24 and documented complaints from residents about the AFP airstrikes of June 12.
Residents said were up as early as two o’clock that Tuesday to prepare their meals but were surprised by the sound of helicopters and fighter planes that dropped bombs in their community.
The residents rushed to nearby Dalgan Elementary School and National Memorial High School for shelter but later fled to Pagalungan proper when around a hundred soldiers appeared later.
The residents stayed at the municipal gym for a week, fearful of returning to their barangay.
About 100 families also fled by boat and built shelter along the riverside in Kulangan in Datu Montawal, Kawagib said.
The military said no civilian area was targeted in its “surgical airstrikes” and ground operations against Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) gunmen, led by a certain Esmail Abubakar.
Sixth Infantry Division commander, Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, claimed at least 15 BIFF gunmen were killed and eight others were wounded in their operations.
The AFP previously said the BIFF is an ISIS-inspired group.
Kawagib, however, belied AFP claims.
“Residents said the military’s claim that there is a strong ISIS presence in Maguindanao was fueled by rumors and speculations with no factual basis,” Kawagib spokesperson Cosain Naga said.
“This suggests that ISIS presence is being used to justify the deployment of hundreds of government troops and the intensification of military combat operations in a disputed area,” he added.
The group said the evacuation disrupted classes in Barangay Dalgan.
Dalgan Elementary School principal Faisal S. Kimula said they have yet to restart their classes as residents have occupied the schools for sanctuary.
“It’s so saddening to know that our registered students this academic year has decreased by 52 percent due to the bombing incident in our village,” Faisal told the mission.
Kawagib said fishermen also discovered their pump boats missing when they returned to their community while households complained of losing their livestock worth 186,000 pesos.
Lessons at a Quran school is also being disrupted when its Ustadz refused to follow the soldiers’ orders to leave, Kawagib said.
The mission noted that the June 12 air and ground strikes at Brgy Dalgan followed military operations launched last March 13 when civilian Nazrullah Balao of Sitio Tukananes was reportedly killed.
Balao’s family said Nazrullah was hit by shrapnel from bombs dropped by the AFP and was found dead inside his house.
Balao’s family only received 500 pesos cash relief and nothing else from authorities, Kawagib said.
“What this State has done to this Moro community is not a victory, but a continuing threat to the Moro people,” Naga said.
“No cover up or military propaganda will justify this injustice brought by military offensive on them,” he added.
Naga pointed out that the attack happened during Ramadhan, which also happened in the past years.
Military operations against Moro communities during their holy month is a violation of their cultural and religious rights, Kawagib pointed out.
Kawagib demands indemnification for the victims of the military operations on Ramadhan in Barangay Dalgan, especially to the Ballao family.
“After what the state has done, there must be accountability. The government should take action and pull out [its] troops in Moro communities,” Naga said.
The Kawagib–led fact finding mission was joined by local organizations Suara Bangsamoro, Liga ng Kabataang Moro, and the Manila-based Hustisya. #