COTABATO CITY: The cornfield in Barangay Tukanalipao, Mamasapano that became a battlefield during the armed clashes between the Philippine National Police-Special Action Forces and Moro fighters continues to host suffering.
It is a farm that supported the lives of a single mother and her 10 children. After the armed encounter, Bai Puti Kusain, the 37-year-old mother can neither work nor simply go near her farm because of fear of dormant grenades suddenly exploding. Without a way to provide for her family, the suffering continues.
Her ordeal was among many previously unheard stories that surfaced during a women-led mission in Mamasapano. Dubbed “Tingog Mamasapano” (Voices from Mamasapano), the activity was organized as a women’s solidarity and listening mission. The women are now sharing the stories and raising their voices in solidarity with all families that have lost loved ones from the violent conflict.
Hidden from the limelight and almost forgotten were the stories of the civilian members, particularly the women and children, of the communities living in Barangay Tukanalipao. “During yesterday’s [Thursday’s] mission, we met Bai Puti Kusain, the owner of the cornfield and the first cousin of one of the civilians who died, a farmer named Badrudin Langalan. Now, aside from grieving the death of her cousin, she is worried where she will get the money for the daily expenses of her 10 children, and for the loans she previously made to buy fertilizer for her land,” said Sophie Pagital of Mindanao People’s Caucus.
Kusain’s experience is just one among the many narratives not being heard amid the noise of the ongoing public discourse that has focused mostly on who should take the blame for the recent tragedy.
“It is unfortunate that no one gets to hear the stories of people from affected communities. This is why we held this mission. It is not meant to find fault or determine who is responsible for the clash, but to surface the impact of the clash on the civilians, particularly women and children, because they are the ones who mostly suffer the brunt in a situation of armed conflict,” said Noraida Abo of the civil society organization (CSO) Unyphil Women.
“We hope the media, the government and the MILF [Moro Islamic Liberation Front] will give equal attention to the loss that all have suffered,” she added.
The information at hand is reporting 6,620 people have been displaced, most of them struggling to find sources of income after leaving behind their livelihoods. Civilians like Kusain are worried that aside from losing loved ones, they will once again be displaced—away from their homes and away from their farms—burying them deeper into poverty.
“The recent tragedy should compel us to be more unyielding in pursuing the path towards just and lasting peace. The suffering and ongoing cost to all Filipina is evident,” said Lyca Sarenas of the Oxfam Mindanao Program.
“We should continue to support the political process that has begun, aimed at establishing governance and institutional mechanisms that will lay the foundations for a more durable peace,” Sarenas added.
“I’ve spent most of my life hoping that peace will finally come to my land. Everyone here just wants the government to do something to make peace a reality in my community,” 50-year-old Bidarya Adam told one of the women CSO leaders who came to her community.
Adam lives with her grandchildren near where the armed clashes took place. She is one of the many women who spent most of her life witnessing the atrocities of armed conflicts. Despite this, she is not losing hope. “Someday, we will all walk together in my community, and everything will be fine, and it will finally be peaceful,” she added.