Outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) tried, but failed, to prevent the hoisting of Philippine flag in a village they used to occupy and control for several years.
Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan and Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Toto Mangudadatu led government troops and local officials in bringing back the displaced families to the respective communities after the Philippine flag was raised and now flying in Barangay Tee, Datu Salibo, Maguindanao, the former bailiwick of BIFF captured by government forces.
The village was used by the BIFF in staging harassment against government troops in Datu Salibo ang nearby municipalities.
As government officials arrived in the village, the BIFF from across the river fire at state security forces, triggering a 30-minute fire fight. The bandits fled when the Army fired artillery to drive them away.
Pangilinan told local residents that the government will protect them and the flagship project aimed at saving farming villages from floods during rainy season.
The Datu Salibo conflict erupted on Feb. 5 when BIFF harassed private construction workers of a PHP58 million flood control project that would pass Barangay Tee, Sambolawan and nearby areas.
That harassment triggered month-long fire fight.
”We are here to protect you and the government project, once it is completed, our soldiers will leave the area,” Pangilinan told the locals.
He said government soldiers offered their live and limbs in protecting the community from bandits, evening suffering death and injuries to combatants.
”We are working with the provincial government to make this community free from lawlessness, we will help rebuild schools because your children will benefit from it and they need it,” he said.
Mangudadatu, on the other hand, explained to the residents that the coming of the military in the village was not to harm residents but to protect the project which will eventually benefit the people.
He vowed to push for the establishment of more public schools in the area because “I am convinced education is vital to your children’s future.”
About 9,104 families have returned to their barangays in five towns of Datu Salibo, Guindulungan, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Talayan and Shariff Saydona.
The government, through the Philippine National Red Cross, have extended assistance to the returning evacuees.
The Omnibus Election Code prohibits local officials, especially those running for public office, to distribute assistance during calamity at the time of campaign period. It says the Red Cross can do the job.