Shooting war averted by timely intervention of peace monitors

A shooting war between government militia and elements of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Sitio Mainline, Liliongan, Carmen town in North Cotabato was averted by a peace mission composed of government, rebel and civil society representatives.

The right time, the right place.

A shooting war between government militia and elements of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Sitio Mainline, Liliongan, Carmen town in North Cotabato was averted by a peace mission composed of government, rebel and civil society representatives.

The Joint Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities, the grassroots-led Bantay Ceasefire, the International Monitoring Team (IMT) and the Local Monitoring Team (LMT) of the MILF were immediately dispatched to the sitio last Saturday, a day after they heard about the shooting incident there. The team was tasked to look into what really transpired and what moves
could be recommended to ease the tension that has led to the evacuation of at least 80 families.

The supposed armed encounter between the government militia and MILF guerrillas was triggered by the killing of one Kanowing Balah, 35, and wounding of MILF commander Gantay Guiamad, also known as Kumander Batangas, Datu Manot Lamping and Tunggal Taher, both 29. Batangas and Lamping are now being treated at the Cotabato Regional Hospital here while Taher, who
sustained minor gunshot wound, is undergoing medication at home.

The Mission Team, composed of Col. Jol Jublee, head of the Brunei-Darussalam Team Site-1 of the IMT, Capt. Jun Sol, operations officer of the GRP-Joint Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities, Datu Haron Mantawil and Bapa Mike
Mamento of the Bantay Ceasefire, Habib Jabbar, of the MILF’s LMT, Hamidi Hussin, an MILF representative to the JCCH, Datuan Panolimba, provincial information officer of the MILF’s Kapalawan provincial command of the MILF, brought the two to the hospital and handed P600 for the medication of Taher.

They were also able to confirm reports that two houses were burned and farm implements and household belongings of civilians were carted away by members of the Civilian Volunteers Organization.

A post-mission report of the Bantay Ceasefire narrated that Liliongan Barangay Chair Eddie Sabirola reportedly requested to dialogue with Kumander Batangas to discuss a planned survey on the parcels of land in Sitio Mainline as pre-requisite for land distribution to beneficiaries identified by the barangay official, a request that was turned down by the
MILF commander saying he was not in a position to negotiate with anybody because of the ongoing peace talks between the government and the MILF.

Since it was turned down, Sabirola, with 20 other armed militia, reportedly went to Sitio Mainline on April 14 in the guise of hunting for wild pigs, but allegedly “maneuvered” towards the residence of Kumander Batangas, who was tilling his farm when they arrived.

Batangas told the Mission that when he saw the militia approaching him, he abandoned his plow and tried to run away from the armed men, sensing he was in trouble, but he was fired upon, hitting the mid-left portion of his hack, piercing through his lower abdomen.

Lamping and Taher said they, together with Balah, ran to rescue Batangas, but they, too,  were fired upon.

Mantawil and Mamento, who were tasked by the team to interview civilians while the other team members concentrated on the testimonies of barangay captains from seven adjacent barangays, said the civilians were ordered by Sabirola not to talk to any investigating team about the incident, except for one Boy Abubakar, who was the only person he authorized to talk.

Mantawil said that at dusk, they managed to convince some civilians to talk and told them about the evacuation, houses burned, farm implements taken and their version of the reported “encounter.”

The civilian witnesses also reported that Abubakar, whom the barangay captains presented as spokesperson of the civilians, was actually working for Sabirola and was earlier briefed by the barangay chair of what to tell the investigating team.

Mamento said that had it not for the quick response of the mission, a shooting war could have erupted as the forces of Batangas had positioned themselves in anticipation of armed encounter against the militia.

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