Armed clashes halt classes in North Cotabato

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Saturday, June 16, 2012


KIDAPAWAN CITY -- Classes at a farming village in Tulunan, North Cotabato were suspended after a group of armed men believed to be members of the 108th Base Command of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) attacked the area on Tuesday, a school teacher said.

Leocelyn Buison, teacher at the Popoyon Elementary School in Tulunan town, said most of their pupils were evacuated on Tuesday when the firefight took place.

The children, according to Buison, were as scared as their parents when they saw some 80 fully-armed men entered their village and fired shots indiscriminately.

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"Most of the children brought only few things when they left their place, but not their notebooks and textbooks," the teacher said.

Rizel Pineda, one of the pupils, recalled the horrors of their evacuation.

"I did not bring anything. We all wanted to get out of our village so we left everything there," Pineda said.

Buison was told that classes might resume on Monday if everything returns to normal.

"We were assured by authorities that it's already safe to go back home. Yet, deep inside there's still fear," she said.

The Tulunan Police Station reported that the attack displaced some 40 families, mostly Ilonggo-speaking residents.

Most of the evacuees, the police said, are temporarily housed at the Tulunan municipal gym; some have sought refuge at Popoyon Elementary School in Barangay Popoyon while others are near the village hall of Barangay Popoyon.

Human shields

The clash between the suspected Moro rebels and government troops lasted for four hours.

After additional troops from the 38th Infantry Battalion, Tulunan police, and an Alert Team from the Cotabato Provincial Police Office were sent in the area, the attackers withdraw to the west portion of Barangay Popoyon, near the marsh, on board pump boats.

As the armed men withdrew, they abducted two farmers who were made as human shields from pursuing Army soldiers and policemen. The armed men also carted away seven carabaos, reports said.

The two farmers, identified as Arjay Manansal and Clement Pastolero, were unharmed while the armed men exited from the village.

The suspected members of the MILF however released Manansal and Pastolero on Wednesday.

‘Land claim’

Based on initial investigation conducted by the Tulunan police, the suspects were after a big parcel of land in Barangay Popoyon that is now owned by a certain Rudy Penaflor.

Tulunan Police Chief Ronnie Cordero said Penaflor bought the land from a certain Sura Mamansag, who authorities hinted, has links with the Moro rebel group operating in the Liguasan marsh.

Cordero identified the leaders of the attackers as commanders Pido, Bhutto Sanday, and Swabe who were allegedly hired by Mamansag.

Mamansag has allegedly returned to the village to claim what belongs to him.

The last time the armed men attacked the village was in 2008, the residents recalled. (Sun.Star Davao/Sunnex)

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on June 16, 2012.

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