• Fighting stunts relief assistance to Maguindanao flood victims

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    Massive relief operations for thousands of victims in worsening floods on 18 towns in Maguindanao were stunted yesterday after suspected combatants of the brigand Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters attacked a passing oil tanker and prompted a running firefight with soldiers, prompting the military to close the affected highway to traffic temporarily.

    No casualty was reported yet in the new fighting, which however effectively prevented relief workers from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao’s Social Welfare Department to jump off here yesterday morning and serve floods victims in 13 inundated towns of Maguindanao linked to this city by a portion of the national highway where rebels and troops clashed past dawn.

    Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said their command closed to traffic temporarily the portion of the Gen. Santos-Cotabato City highway along Guindolongan town for public safety.

    “We are still ascertaining the fate of the people manning the oil tanker… Our forces are still engaging the attackers while other troops are clearing the peripheries,” Col. Hermoso said.

    The new fighting drove forced some residents to flee to safer grounds, compounding the magnitude of evacuation caused by the floods and the social displacement in past clashes between BIFF elements and military forces.

    Hermoso was hopeful a speedy clearing of the area anytime yesterday to reopen the stretch not only to commuters but mainly for ARMM relief workers.

    Dozens of DSWD-ARMM relief workers were contemplating to use an alternative route passing through several towns in North Cotabato before reaching the flooded Maguindanao towns of Buluan, Datu Paglas, Gen. S. K. Pendatun, Pandag, Datu Salibo and Datu Piang, among others.

    ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman expressed dismay over the renewed fighting, hoping the BIFF rebels would refrain from initiating atrocities in the spirit of Ramadhan fasting’s patience and peace-building spirit and for the sake of assistance-needing flood victims.

    The ARMM’s Department of Social Welfare and Development reported Monday 45,594 families of at least 150,000 individuals affected by inundations in 158 villages of 18 towns in Maguindanao alone. The figures were increasing amid the continued downpours causing more floodwaters, DWSD’s Puasa Enok said yesterday.

    Hataman led relief operations in Mother Kabuntalan, Sultan Kudarat, and Montawal towns on Mondayand was supposed to join the relief works stunted by the fighting.

    Officials noted the implementation this time of more cohesive ARMM relief operations after the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) formed last Thursday the Human Emergency Action and Response Team (HEART) to help “curtail impact of disasters” in the region. But the fighting undermined such innovations, they lamented.

    In related development, ARMM Public Works and Highways Secretary Emil Sadain convened a meeting yesterday with counterparts from Region 12 to map out remedies on the 70-meter Tonggol Bridge along Pagalungan-Montawal highway that rampaging floods had affected.

    Sadain said he inspected the structure Monday and found it stable, except for the “rip-rapping works” by the DPWH-North Cotabato District 2 Office on the bridge’s accessory river banks that “collapsed.”

    Floods also affected some villages in Koronadal City, prompting its local government unit to mull placing the city under state of calamity.

    The Cotabato City executive and legislative branches jointly declared a state of calamity Friday after 11 of 36 city barangays were plunged under floodwaters with some 30,000 residents displaced.

    Some of the 18 inundated towns in Maguindanao have already declared state of calamities, according to Assemblyman Khadaffy Mangudadatu.

    The local lawmaker was not certain if his whole province was placed under state of calamity. Published reports said Monday the province had already made such declaration.

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