Mamasapano villagers start anew after fatal encounter
John Unson (The Philippine Star) - February 5, 2015 - 3:33pm

MAMASAPANO, Maguindanao - Life has started returning to normal in three conflict-stricken barangays in Mamasapano, Maguindanao whose residents were driven away from their homes by the violent January 25 encounter between policemen and Moro rebels.

Etta Rosales, chair of the Commission on Human Rights and Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao on Wednesday assured the evacuees the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are now trying to peacefully resolve the incident to prevent it from adversely affecting the GPH-MILF peace overture.

Hataman, members of the regional cabinet and local officials accompanied Rosales to Barangay Tukanalipao to inspect the scene of the bloody 10-hour firefights between members of the police’s Special Action Force and MILF guerillas, and a third group, the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

Rosales appealed to the MILF to forge ahead with its peace efforts with Malacañang and not to allow the incident to affect the initiatives of both sides to resolve the decades-old Mindanao Moro issue.

She said the government is also keen on not letting the SAF-MILF encounter derail the peace process.

Hataman, during their tour, appealed to families of the four civilians killed in the crossfire to calm down and continue trusting in the government and MILF peace panels.

Hataman handed over P25,000 cash to ethnic Maguindanaon spouses Toot and Samra, whose daughter, Sarah, was killed in the crossfire.

The families of three other villagers killed by stray bullets as the SAF and MILF rebels traded shots,Badrudin Langalan, Murshid Hashim, and Omar Dagadas,  also received P25,000 each from Hataman as initial assistance.

A Maguindanaon peasant named Salik told reporters the tension in Mamasapano had waned considerably after they heard radio reports purporting that the MILF’s chieftain, Al-Haj Murad Embrahim, and President Benigno Aquino III both assured that the January 25 hostilities in the municipality’s adjoining Barangays Tukanalipao, Pidsandawan and Inog-og would not affect the Mindanao peace process.

“We were so scared of escalation of hostilities, fanned by stories that the government would retaliate for the deaths of more than 40 policemen killed in the encounter,” Salik said in the Maguindanaon vernacular.

Rosales said the incident, though unfortunate, gave credence to the need for massive socio-economic interventions meant to hasten economic growth of impoverished areas in rebel strongholds, while the government and the MILF are trying to thresh out lasting solutions to the Moro issue.

Rosales said civilians killed and injured in the January 25 hostilities here were the main “collateral damages” in the conflict.

Hataman also urged residents here not to entertain rumors and spread speculations on the security situation in their surroundings.

“Among the best sources of assessments on the real situation on the ground are the GPH and MILF panels, the local officials, the ARMM government, and the joint GPH-MILF ceasefire committee. Even the MILF commanders in Mamasapano are cooperating in resolving the incident peacefully so let’s stay calm,” Hataman said.

Hataman said he had instructed ARMM education officials to immediately initiate the resumption of classes in 13 schools affected by the incident.

More than 6,000 high school students and elementary pupils were forced to stay in their homes after the encounter, which left 44 members of the SAF and 18 MILF guerillas dead.

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