For evacuees, waiting is their only option
Given a choice, Hazuiar would rather have her children learn their lessons than run for their lives. In better days, her daughter Norhayna would be in school, her son Rashid would be at the learning center in their village, and she would be tending to her youngest child at home.
But these days, choice is not something Hazuiar, her children, and about 64,600 others have. At least 10 towns in Maguindanao are in the midst of conflict and people have been fleeing their homes to survive, since firefighting began between factions of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the all-out offense of the military against the BIFF shortly after.
As of March 09, based on figures released by the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao’s Humanitarian Emergency Action and Response Team (ARMM-HEART), the total number of internally displaced persons in the province of Maguindanao has reached 64,600.
However, the firefighting which have prompted evacuations is not just from a single encounter.
The ongoing intensive law enforcement operations being carried out by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) began on February 25 — exactly a month after the Mamasapano encounter — when AFP chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang, Jr. ordered an all-out offensive against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.
The Western Mindanao Command has been instructed to coordinate with the Philippine National Police in a joint operation against the BIFF.
Catapang issued the order amidst clashes between combatants of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and BIFF, at least three of which are reported to be caused by disputes over control of parts of the Liguasan delta along the Maguindanao-North Cotabato boundary.
The AFP initially began their operations in hopes of deescalating the tension in the area, according to Catapang in an interview last February 17.
Norhayna hasn’t gone to school in ten days, she says. The school year is about to end but classes have been suspended indefinitely due to the firefights.
When asked how she felt about the class suspension, she said, “I no longer know what will happen to my studies. Maybe we’d resume classes after the firefight, but right now I have no idea what will happen.”
According to Atty. Jamar Kulayan, at least 18 schools have suspended classes and it is unfortunate that these suspensions happened so close to the end of the school year.
In earlier interview during the recently held region-wide sportsfest, Kulayan has warned about the adverse effects of firefighting. According to him, hundreds of thousands of students might be affected by the ongoing conflict in Maguindanao should it spread to the rest of the region.
At least ten days ago, Hazuiar and her children have evacuated to Brgy. Libutan in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. They live in Brgy. Dasikil, at least four barangays east of Libutan. The health of her children has been compromised since then, according to her.
“The weather has been hot the past few days, at least until last night when it rained for a short while,” she said as she fell in line with her youngest for a free medical check-up courtesy of the region’s Department of Health.
Norhayna joins her mother shortly, after claiming relief goods that was brought by ARMM-HEART for evacuees in the area.
When asked if her family has made any attempt to come home, Hazuiar says, “no, we don’t dare come back. We can’t do anything against a bazooka.”
“We can’t really do anything but wait,” Norhayna says as she falls in line with her mother. “We always wait.” (Bureau of Public Information)