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Kris-Crossing Mindanao

Scary beginnings (2)

/ 04:03 AM January 10, 2022

The year 2022 was ushered in with a bang, literally huge ones, for the residents of Barangay Damabalas, Datu Piang, Maguindanao, with six 60mm mortar shells exploding in different parts of the barangay on New Year’s Eve as I narrated in my previous column. While no casualties were reported in that military offensive, it certainly scared the wits out of the residents there. Somebody texted me saying, “it was just part of their ‘new year’s welcome; ‘ and partly to scare some suspected members of what some residents in the barangay call ‘local ISIS.’” Although key informants we interviewed denied the existence of a “local” version of IS in the whole of Datu Piang, they admitted that these “terrorists people” (sic) as one informant told us, are just using the town as a “passageway” to go to the inner parts of the dreaded SPMS box (Salibu, Pagatin, Mamasapano, and Shariff Aguak), the location of many deadly police and military operations in the past.

One of these is the Mamasapano tragedy that killed 44 members of the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police on Jan. 25, 2015. But what is not widely known is that the incident also killed more than 10 local people, allegedly members of the armed, lawless groups in the area. Military reports accused members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as the ones responsible for the death of the 44 SAF. But many local informants disclosed that among those killed in the incident were a few women and children. This botched police operation was not coordinated with the Ad hoc Joint Action Group (Ahjag), a peace mechanism installed during the tedious MILF- Government of the Philippines peace process.

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In Pikit, Cotabato province, one family faced the first few days of 2022 in deep grief, with three of the family members killed in a police-military operation conducted in one of its far-flung barangays.

On Dec. 29, 2021, a composite group of police and military operatives raided SMZ Marketing, a pawnshop in Barangay Gukotan, (located 20 kilometers south of Pikit poblacion) at 2:30 a.m. Police reports identified three members of the Dalid family (owner of the pawnshop) among the six fatalities (in other news reports, only five were killed and five others injured). Other reports alleged that the joint army and police operation was actually a manhunt against members of an alleged “carnapping syndicate-cum-private armed group.”

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In the police report, items found in the SMZ Marketing premises included 440 assorted motorcycles, several unlicensed firearms, including some bomb-making equipment and materials. Police authorities alleged that these are “stolen” items, and the firearms are unlicensed.

But this report was strongly condemned by the Moro residents of the barangay, saying that the Dalid family operates a legitimate business, a pawnshop, and all the items in their warehouse had pawn papers and documents to support the transactions. The daughters of the slain Dalid patriarch, Badrudin Masulot Dalid, 65, vehemently denied that their father and the five other fatalities in the “raid” were motorcycle “thieves.” They claimed that the people in the area are members of the MILF community. As such, they do not coddle the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, as police earlier claimed in their report. Another witness claimed that the raiding team also took the motorcycles, some cash, and other valuables that they “seized” during the “raid.”

The local MILF leadership in the community decried this incident as another example of the lack of coordination between the police and military with mechanisms like Ahjag. It is reminiscent of the Mamasapano tragedy from seven years ago.

Hopefully, this will not go down as another unsolved and unsettled travesty of justice like what happened more than two years ago in Kabacan, and several unsolved killings of Bangsamoro outside the core BARMM territory, like in Polomolok, South Cotabato. Certainly, the Bangsamoro and other people in the region do not want to experience more scary incidents marking the beginning of a new year, to add to more scary prospects of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 coming in.

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TAGS: Kris-Crossing Mindanao, Maguindanao history, Maguindanao New Year 2022, Rufa Cagoco-Guiam
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