CAMP SIONGCO, Maguindanao: Provincial government officials and the military here convened an unprecedented Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC) meeting raising concern over the safety of civilians affected by sporadic armed clashes stemming from “rido” or clan wars.
Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu chaired the special meeting that the Philippine Army’s 6th Infantry Division commander Maj. Gen. Arnel dela Vega hosted. In attendance were 32 mayors, police provincial director Senior Supt. Agustin Tello, Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) director Amina Dalandag and other PPOC members.
Highlighted during the meeting — that drew the attendance of a record 32 out of 36 Maguindanao mayors — was the skirmish last week in the towns of Datu Saudi-Ampatuan, Rajah Buayan and Datu Abdullah Sangki involving two families allied with ground commanders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) 105th and 106th base commands that drove hundreds of families from their homes and left casualties, including a wounded minor.
“Protection for civilians, particularly of women, children and aged people, is our main concern,” Mangudadatu said.
The meeting adopted resolutions prescribing that the MILF hierarchy constantly police the ranks of its field commanders and followers, especially those reportedly involved in the armed skirmishes, and prodding concerned local government executives to intensify pacification efforts.
Authorities believe that the recent conflict was a family feud that stemmed from the killing of Datu Saudi Ampatuan Councilor Sahabudin Namli, on February 21. A day after the murder, MILF ground commanders Datu Acob and Datu Itim traded shots in Barangay Madia in Datu Saudi Ampatuan.
Namli was not the only elected official murdered in Datu Saudi-Ampatuan town recently.
In November 2016, councilor Anwar Sindatuk was killed after he assumed the vice mayor’s seat a month after the death of mayor Samsudin Dimaukom in an armed clash between his group and anti-narcotic operatives in North Cotabato.
“Despite the recent murder [of Namli], there were also existing family feuds due to land disputes and political affiliations, so we need all stakeholders to work hand-in-hand to resolve these issues. And since we are under martial law, we are doing our best under the circumstances,” Dela Vega said.
“And on top of that, we give primacy to the existing peace process because we know that MILF, MNLF [Moro National Liberation Front] and then some other private individuals were involved,” he added.
The council also took up urgent issues such as the threat of extremism and terrorism, illegal drugs, implementation of the 4Ps (Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino program) and programs strengthening cooperation between local government units and the army.
Also present at the meeting was former acting governor Sajid Ampatuan who accompanied his wife, Mayor Reshal Ampatuan of Datu Unsay.
Ampatuan, who is out on bail as one of over 100 suspects in the November 23, 2009 massacre of 58 people, 32 of them media workers, gladly shook the hand of Mangudadatu who lost his pregnant wife, sisters and other female kin in the carnage.
“My administration promotes unity and productive peace. Our quest for justice [for the massacre]is for the court to decide. Meantime, we must move on to bring Maguindanao to greater heights,” Mangudadatu said when asked to comment on his cordial interaction with Ampatuan after the meeting.