THE Palace hinted Saturday at a prolonged state of emergency over Maguindanao province in the wake of reports of looting in some towns there.

Deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar said the situation – where secessionist rebels have deployed their own task force to go after the looters – is a cause for concern.

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“If the violence continues... this would be an important factor in the decision of the NSC whether or not to maintain the state of emergency in Maguindanao. That does not help the case for lifting the state of emergency,” he said on government-run dzRB radio.

He said the National Security Council will study whether to extend the state of emergency over the province because of the looting.

The government placed Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat provinces and Cotabato City under a state of emergency last November 24, a day after 57 people were massacred in Ampatuan, Maguindanao.

On the other hand, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has deployed a task force to stop looting in some towns in Maguindanao despite objections from the local military.

An article posted on the MILF website ( Saturday said Task Force Ittihad (Unity) will operate in Mamasapano, Shariff Aguak and Ampatuan towns, and adjacent areas.

“It is free-for-all situation here. The victims of repression for years are now getting back at their real or perceived enemies,” the MILF quoted a military member of its task force as saying.

The MILF said the task force was originally deployed in these areas in 2008.

It said the “military member” of the task force claimed looting, robbery, and cattle-rustling are taking place almost daily and it is extremely difficult to control.

But the MILF said these looters do not represent any single group, and many are plain civilians hurt by years of repressive rule in Maguindanao.

It added that some are former militias who were not paid their salaries, as well as runaway militias hunted by the military.

“Others are ordinary criminals with no qualm to commit even the nastiest crimes,” it said.

The MILF cited reports of armed men in “military uniforms” roaming around and extorting money and food from the villagers.

It deployed the task force despite opposition from the military, which said that it will complicate the situation in Maguindanao where a state of emergency is still in place.

The MILF however said the task force will be moving “low profile” on the ground and will have fewer members.

“We cannot allow this chaos to proceed without doing something to stop it,” the commander of the task force said.

“We understand the position of the military and their concerns,” he explained, “but it is also our duty to stop this growing menace to our people,” he added.

He said even the provincial Capitol of Shariff Aguak, which was under heavy guard by police and soldiers since November, was also looted. (JMR/Sunnex)