Bandits attempt to sabotage ARMM’s Maguindanao relief ops PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 August 2013 10:56

Tuesday’s five-hour blockade by Moro bandits of isolated stretches of the Cotabato-Gen. Santos Highway in Maguindanao was meant to sabotage the delivery of 10 tons of relief supplies to flood victims in the second district of the province,  local executives and security officials said.

The relief supplies were, however, still delivered the same day by employees of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to flooded villages in Gen. S.K. Pendatun town and surrounding areas via the Cotabato City-North Cotabato route, which is longer by 83 kilometers.

Intelligence units of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division were convinced the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters pulled off their simultaneous attacks along stretches of the highway Tuesday dawn after hearing reports by media outfits a day before ARMM officials were to transport relief supplies to the second district of the province through the same route.

Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesman of 6th ID, said they have been receiving persistent feedback from villagers residing along stretches of the highway in the conflict-stricken Guindulungan, Datu Saudi and Datu Unsay towns, all in Maguindanao, that the bandits, in fact, had even planned to set off roadside bombs to derail the convoy carrying the relief supplies.

“Our units are now verifying these bits and pieces of information coming in, fed to us secretly by patriotic civilians in the areas the BIFF have been attacking since the Ramadhan started, Hermoso said.

The convoy of the relief supplies from the office of ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman in Cotabato City was to depart for Gen. S.K. Pendatun town via the Cotabato-Gen. Santos Highway 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, according to regional officials.

More than 100,000 individuals in 19 of Maguindanao’s 36 towns have been dislocated by floods spawned by incessant rains since last weekend, now confined in houses of their relatives in higher grounds and in public school campuses.

Hataman led Monday the initial distribution of relief supplies to evacuees in the flooded Sultan Kudarat and Kabuntalan towns in the first district of the province.

Local officials said the BIFF has been fomenting hatred towards the government from among villagers in areas where its forces operate and impose a ruthless Taliban-style justice system.

“Maybe they want flood victims to get hungry in evacuation sites to make their instigations succeed,” a local official, who asked not to be identified, said.

ARMM Vice-Gov. Haroun Al-Rashid Lucman, who is concurrent regional social welfare secretary of the autonomous region, said soldiers have established checkpoints along the highways straddling through Maguindanao to prevent bandits from closing in.

“By passing through many checkpoints on my way back to Cotabato from Koronadal (in South Cotabato) I realized the danger ahead,” said Lucman, who led the ARMM’s relief missions in the second district of Maguindanao that was briefly stalled by the BIFF harassments.

Data obtained from ARMM’s health and social welfare departments indicated that as of 4:30 p.m. of July 30, a total of 48,725 families, roughly more than 100,000 villagers, including children and elderly folks, have already been displaced by the continuing inundation of low-lying areas in 19 of Maguindanao’s 36 towns.

Hataman and Lucman have both appealed for sobriety among Maguindanao residents, urging the police and military to tighten security in areas vulnerable to bandit attacks.

Hermoso said the 6th ID’s security missions against the BIFF will continue and even intensify with the approach of the Eid’l Fitr, or culmination of the Ramadhan fasting season — to fall either on the 9th or 10th of August — due to possible retaliations by the group for its heavy losses in its encounters with the military last Tuesday.