Bantay Ceasefire Investigative Mission in Pikit, Cotabato and Pagalungan, Maguindanao

“Bantay Ceasefire 2” (an assessment of displaced communities) was held July 13-15 in fifteen villages in Pikit and Pagalungan. The assessments focused on the areas of security, human rights, education, livelihood and public health.There was special focus on assessing the impact of the declaration by Malacañang of Brgy. Inug-og, Pagalungan as a “sanctuary of peace” on 13 June 2003.

{mosimage}“Bantay Ceasefire 2” (an assessment of displaced communities) was held July 13-15 in fifteen villages in Pikit and Pagalungan. There was special focus on assessing the impact of the declaration by Malacañang of Brgy. Inug-og, Pagalungan as a “sanctuary of peace” on 13 June 2003.

The assessments focused on the areas of security, human rights, education, livelihood and public health. The primary sources of information were the returnees and the village officials, officers of the Marines and the army units deployed in Pikit and Pagalungan and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) command operating in the area.

The 50-person mission was composed of “Suara Kalilintad” officers, barangay officials and representatives of the Mindanao Peoples’ Caucus (MPC), Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID); Balay Rehabilitation Center (Balay); Balik-Kalipay; Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFD); United Youth of the Philippines (UNYPHIL); the Mindanao Peoples Peace Movement (MPPM), the Gaston Z. Ortigas Peace Institute (GZOPI), Mennonites Central Committee and the Immaculate Conception Parish in Pikit.

The mission was conducted while large parts of Pikit and Pagalungan were still underwater from rainy season flash floods in the first week of July. It is also helpful to note that three days after the mission, government and the MILF agreed on an indefinite bilateral ceasefire and started other confidence-building measures designed to help restart peace negotiations between the MILF and the Philippine government in Malaysia within the same month.

Key findings:

There is a general feeling of fear and insecurity among evacuees who returned to their barangays in Pikit since June 9. Residents claimed in interviews that they were forced by the Pikit local government to return to their communities even if there was no bilateral ceasefire yet at the time.

Military camps are situated near civilian communities, including the new core shelters. While mission finds rehabilitation efforts at constructing core shelters for the evacuees laudable, it also finds it quite disturbing that the shelters were built near the military camps. What appears to be a purely humanitarian effort has been tainted with military objective. This proximity has compromised the civilians safety instead of offering security to the civilians.

MILF and the AFP officers in Pikit and Pagalungan claimed there are still unexploded bombs, land mines, ordnance and booby traps in these areas which pose danger to returning evacuees. In fact, last June in Barangay Talitay, Pikit, a returnee named Tatuan Mamadra was injured when a 105 mm. howitzer shell exploded in his farm.

Five months after the February assault in Buliok, the municipalities of Pikit, Pagalungan and even the adjacent municipality of Pagalungan remain highly militarized: two Marine brigades and the army’s 40th Infantry Battalion and the MILF’s 105th Base Command while local government units are recruiting paramilitaries. The presence of troops render meaningless the March 4, 2003 declaration by the Cabinet of 15 barangays in Pikit as “zones of peace”, and the well-publicized June 13, 2003 declaration by the President of Brgy. Inug-og, Pagalungan, as a “sanctuary of peace”.

Civilian movement is being restricted. Majority of the residents in Pagalungan and Pagagawan have not yet returned to their own barangays. Those who do harvest crops during the daytime only but log out before nightfall. While residents understand the security measures, many said they feel like thieves sneaking in and out of their own farms. Others complain they don’t have enough daytime hours to harvest crops.

Extensive damage to properties were noted in the fifteen barangays in Pikit, Pagalungan and Pagagawan that the mission visited. A significant number of houses, schools and mosques were damaged either by direct hits from small arms fire, from mortar or artillery shelling, from bombs dropped by planes or from gun ship rockets. Civilian houses were burned from aerial bombings and shelling and there were strong indications that many houses were intentionally torched. Farming and fishing implements like fishing boats were also put to the torch.

See:
Full Report of Bantay Ceasefire mission in July 200 3 (in pdf, 23pp. 94KB).
Full Report of Bantay Ceasefire mission in January 2003 (in pdf, 38 pp. 159KB).

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