SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao: About 300 families of Teduray tribesmen are virtually trapped in the clashes between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) gunmen who have been attacking their tribal domain since December 25.
The AFP and the BIFF have been engaged in firefights in the area surrounding Mount Firis in Maguindanao forcing the peaceful Teduray families to evacuate to safer grounds.
Mount Firis, a sacred ground for the indigenous non-Moro Tedurays, is surrounded by Maguindanao’s adjoining municipalities of Datu Hoffer, Datu Unsay and Datu Saudi, where the BIFF abound.
Key members of the municipal peace and order councils in the three towns said BIFF gunmen on Monday took seven horses left by villagers who fled amid a gunfight near an Army detachment on New Year’s Day.
Reports reaching the office of Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) indicated that the Teduray families are locked in the standoff between soldiers and BIFF members.
Local officials said the affected Tedurays do not want to leave their villages for fear of the improvised explosive devices (IED) the BIFF bandits reportedly planted along farm trails.
Over the weekend, a policeman and two civilians were killed while seven others, including two soldiers, were wounded in roadside bombings here in Shariff Aguak on Sunday night that extended until Monday morning.
According to the residents in the area, BIFF snipers positioned in the hills overlooking the routes have also been targeting the beleaguered Tedurays whenever they try to leave their homes.
In a series of attacks last week, BIFF members burned down 18 houses of the Tedurays and killed their tribal chief Diego Dagadas.
Meanwhile, personnel of the ARMM’s Humanitarian Emergency Assistance and Response Team (HEART) on Monday tried, but failed to reach out to the trapped Teduray families because of security problems.’
The ARMM-HEART, a relief and response team, distributed rice and other basic provisions to evacuees in makeshift evacuation sites in Barangay Limpongo of Datu Hoffer and in nearby areas in Shariff Aguak.
The office of Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu has also been providing the evacuees with relief supplies since December 26. He said he will request the joint ceasefire committee of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the government to help resolve the troubles in Teduray ancestral lands in Datu Unsay, Datu Hoffer, Datu Saudi and Shariff Aguak towns.
He added that while the BIFF is not covered by the 18-year Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities between the government and the MILF, both sides have also been providing the evacuees with relief supplies since December 26.
The interim security agreement enjoins the MILF and the government to cooperate in maintaining law and order in conflict affected areas in the southern provinces.