COTABATO CITY, Maguindanao: More than 40,000 people from eight towns have fled their homes to escape the fighting between government troops and the rebel Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a senior official said on Wednesday.
Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) said many of them had sought refuge in government evacuation centers.
The ARMM launched a humanitarian mission on Tuesday to bring food, medicines and other forms of assistance to the refugees in the towns of Mamasapano, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, and Datu Salibo, Hataman said.
Other towns affected by the fighting included Shariff Saydona, Datu Unsay, Shariff Aguak, Rajah Buayan, Datu Hoffer and Datu Saudi. Mamasapano was the site of a bloody encounter in which 44 police special action force commandos were killed last January 25.
The fighting has also disrupted classes in public schools in the area. At least 16,000 elementary and high school students were affected.
Hataman told an emergency meeting of the Regional Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council the governament must immediately address the education and health needs of the refugees.
“I directed the education secretary na kunin lahat ng apektadong eskuelahan,” he said. “Baka pwede na kausapin ang mga guro sa ibang lugar na dapat magklase na sila.”
“Proactively ina-address na naming yung mga saskit, pinaikot na natin ang health department para ma-assess ang mga community affected,” Hataman said.
Sapiya Pangadil, 60, a resident of Barangay Toina in Mamasapano said he was thankful for the help coming from the ARMM, which the people badly needed.
“But I pray the frequent armed conflict would end so that my seven grandchildren could finish their schooling,” he said.