KORONADAL CITY – Heavy presence of military troops in Maguindanao failed to stop or deter violence in the province as clashes between two groups remained prevalent.

"There are still some skirmishes between them. They have a rido (clan war)," Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan G. Ponce, spokesperson for the 6th Infantry Division said in a radio interview.

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Ponce said some "former" members of the Civilian Volunteer Organization (CVO) and the 105th Base Command of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are still wracked in conflict with each other occasionally.

Ponce accused the MILF's 105th Base Command for being responsible of the recent fire in some parts of Maguindanao, which is less than two hours' drive from this city.

On Wednesday night, seven houses in Datu Hoffer town, a bailiwick of the Ampatuan clan, were razed by suspected MILF members.

The Ampatuans are known to be at odds with the MILF.

Hundreds of CVOs grow rapidly in Maguindanao under the helm of former governor Andal S. Ampatuan Sr. as part of the anti-insurgency efforts of the government.

The CVOs are supposedly an arm of the military and Army to fight against rebels, the official said.

Ponce admitted that the military has provided the Ampatuans with CVOs, who were allegedly the clan’s private armies. A supply of bullets was also given to the CVOs to go after the MILF, he said.

Large cache of firearms, allegedly owned by the Ampatuan clan, had been unearthed in different parts of the province following the November 23 massacre.

Reports said scoundrels in the military could have sold some of those firearms to the family.

"We are still investigating some government-owned firearms, which landed in the hands of the Ampatuans. But we have given the Ampatuans bullets before [in the fight against the MILF]," Ponce said.

Fierce clashes between the government and the MILF erupted in mid-2008 with the botched signing of the controversial memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain that the Supreme Court eventually ruled as unconstitutional.

The 105th Base Command of the MILF, headed by Ameril Umbra Kato, waged the war in Maguindanao and North Cotabato out of dismay. The war also spilled in Lanao del Norte and Sarangani provinces that displaced more than half a million people.

The military branded the members of the 105th Base Command as "rogue elements", which the MILF central committee rejected.

The central committee vowed to investigate Kato for the bloodshed. Yet results have not been made public, as of press time.

Although Ponce confirmed the occurrence of the "few small skirmishes", he said the peace and order in Maguindanao have generally improved with the deployment of 15 infantry battalions as an offshoot of the state-of-emergency and the Martial Law imposition following the worst election-related killing in the country.

Each battalion is reportedly composed of 300 to 400 personnel.

The state-of-emergency remains in effect in Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, and Cotabato City while the Martial Law has been lifted already.

Meanwhile, in Manay, Davao Oriental, the Guerilla Front 15 and Guerilla Front 18 of the New People's Army (NPA) has been terrorizing the residents of two villages in the past three weeks.

An official said their town received a threat for the first time from the rebels, which forced the schools in Barangay Taocanga to hold classes for 11 days since December 7 last year.

Residents left their homes and sought the local government officials’ help for fear of their lives.

Armed members of the communist group have reportedly been extorting food and money from the residents. The rebels also conducted a forced recruitment in the area.

Lieutenant Colonel Henry Doyaoen, 67th Army Infantry Batallion (IB) commander, said they are ensuring the safety and security of the civilians in the area. The Army immediately deployed troops in the area since December 28, 2009, he said. (Ben O. Tesiorna/Bong S. Sarmiento/Sunnex)