IDP Assessment Mission Report, February 13-16, 2007

Barely has all of over 7,000 evacuees of Midsayap town in Cotabato Province have gone back home when a chain of displacement was again reported, this time, expanding to other towns of Cotabato and some municipalities of Maguindanao.

But if the Midsayap case had been caused by skirmishes between government troopers and Moro Islamic Liberation Front guerrillas, this time, the displacement is an offshoot of military pursuit operation against 52 inmates of the Cotabato Provincial Jail who escaped from prison last February 2, 2007. Aside from common criminals, authorities said that the escapees included MILF members who allegedly took refuge.


Barely has all of over 7,000 evacuees of Midsayap town in Cotabato Province have gone back home when a chain of displacement was again reported, this time, expanding to other towns of Cotabato and some municipalities of Maguindanao.

Alarmed by anticipated adverse effects of the exodus of civilians to believed safer grounds and its implications on the ongoing peace process, the Mindanao Peoples Caucus dispatched a team of Bantay Ceasefire volunteers to investigate on the extent of the evacuation in view of helping address the needs of the refugees. The team also had to try the best way it could in finding out what caused the evacuation, hoping it could come up with recommendations to mitigate, if not stop the ordeal of communities affected and avoid similar incidences in the future.

But if the Midsayap case had been caused by skirmishes between government troopers and Moro Islamic Liberation Front guerrillas, this time, the displacement is an offshoot of military pursuit operation against 52 inmates of the Cotabato Provincial Jail who escaped from prison last February 2, 2007. Aside from common criminals, authorities said that the escapees included MILF members who allegedly took refuge.

Areas covered

The areas covered by the team are the towns of Midsayap, Aleosan, Pikit, Kabacan and Carmen in Cotabato Province, and, Gen. Salipada K. Pendatun, (GSKP) Pagalungan, Shariff Aguak and Mamasapano, all of Maguindanao province in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

In Midsayap, the barangays covered are Rangaban, Mudseng, Tugal, Tumbras, Kapinpilan, Ulandang, Nabalawag, Kadingilan and Kadigasan.

In GSKP, the barangays of Lao-Lao, Pidtiguian, Liguasan, Panosolen, Lasangan and Midpandacan were covered.

In Carmen, the barangay of Aroman was covered and the village of Magatos

in Kabacan. Barangay Langayen, Pikit an evacuation area of some refugees from Rangaban of Midsayap was also among those visited.

In Kabacan town of Cotabato Province, the barangays covered are Pedtad, Kuyapon, Lower Paatan, Upper Paatan, Kilagasan, Magatos, Malamoti, Simone, Pagagawan and Katiisan.

Highlights of findings

  • It is worth noting that the initiatives of the Ahjag, though individual members’ decision, to usher the government operatives to ensure they do not step into known and registered MILF claimed areas, have helped avert a bigger armed encounter that could have dragged the rebel group against the government troopers simply running after the jail-breakers.
  • In Midsayap, it was once more proven that the Joint Monitoring Action Group (JMAT), manned by representatives of the International Monitoring Team, Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities of both the government and the MILF, and the independent monitoring group Bantay Ceasefire, is really an effective mechanism not only in deescalating armed encounters but also in averting potential armed clashes between soldiers and rebels. Above all, their presence in the affected community has bolstered the feeling of security among civilians.
  • The MILF forces in Midsayap have already repositioned themselves away from where they were in late January until early February. The Army troopers have already vacated school buildings and classes have already resumed. While the government troops have started withdrawing some of its forces in the area, its presence is still very much felt and is being cited by evacuees as reason for their refusal to go back home.  Now that the MILF troopers are no longer visible in the area, the Army justified their presence by insisting that there were still “criminal elements” around the area, particularly in Rangaban. Apparently, the Army is referring to the alleged presence of a rag-tag armed group of former Rangaban Barangay Chair Gardoque Lanson who has been on the run after criminal charges have been filed against him in court.

Local residents interviewed, though, disputed the Army’s claim saying they have not seen Lanson in the area.

  • The organized evacuation of civilians in Shariff Aguak and Mamasapano has put the evacuees intact which also resulted in their quick collective decision to immediately go back to their homes as soon as security threats diminished.
  • It is also worth noting that the decision of evacuees in GSKP and Mamasapano not to occupy school buildings did not result in long suspension of classes.
  • All villages of civilians who evacuated have complained against looting and destruction of properties. Among there complaints are the carting away or destruction of television sets, transistor radios/cassette audio recorder/player, kitchen utensil, rice, and other precious belongings of the civilians.

The Social Welfare Officer of GSKP, for instance, confirmed the complaints of civilians by mentioning in its report that: “The evacuees also found out that their farm equipments/implements were sabotaged, that is, salt grains were placed inside gasoline tanks, nails were placed inside the engine of farm implements. (sic)

Among other common complaints are looting of sari-sari stores and robbing of farm animals like chicken and ducks that civilians alleged were butchered by the soldiers.

In Midsayap, cases of illegal arrest, illegal detention and torture were also reported by civilians. Among these cases was that of an old man who was turned over by soldiers to the Police for detention after he was severely beaten. The old man was released after his alleged illegal detention and torture was aired by a local radio station. In Kabacan, an elderly woman was hit in a cross-fire but was only brought to a hospital for treatment eight hours after he was wounded.

  • In Midsayap, GSKP and Kabacan, while the military operations that caused the displacement have, on surface, been justified as running against criminal elements, in all of these areas the conflict have always been somehow also linked to land conflict and the MILF has always been dragged into the picture.

It surfaced in Midsayap that the root of the conflict could be traced to at least three layers of land conflicts. The MILF has also been dragged on the conflict as some of the parties involved have been identified as MILF members.  (Please see Bantay Ceasefire Report 001-01-07)

Running after the jail-breakers had been also used to justify the military operation in GSKP, but residents interviewed also managed to related it with a long-standing land conflict that has caused a “rido” among residents of the affected municipality. The evacuees claimed that an MILF commander who has already surrendered to the government allegedly reported to the Army that some of the jail-breakers were sighted in the area with legitimate MILF members.

Kabacan, though with local peculiar color, shares a similar trend. In some barangays where the soldiers were running after jail-breakers, they had to be careful against entering known and registered MILF claimed territories. The timely intervention of individual Ahjag members in the locality has, however, prevented the MILF from being dragged in an armed confrontation against government troopers.

In Tamped of Kabacan, the evacuation was caused by a dispute over a parcel of land being claimed by indigenous peoples as part of their ancestral domain. They claimed that the land is being “grabbed” by a firm identified only as AJMR. AJMR operates a banana plantation in the locality.

A group of indigenous people that identified itself as Ubpaan En Ni Mendadtem, asserted that AJMR has “used” a group of MILF rebels allegedly under the respective commands of Commanders Black Samurai, Udin, and Argon. The three are reportedly under a higher command led by Commander Tawunting.

Read full text of IDP Assessment Report (in .pdf)

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