Background on Palimbang Hostilities Northern Palimbang - June - August 2011
An inter-group armed conflict occurred in Kidayan in the northern part of Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat on July 20, 2011 between two feuding armed groups. One group is lead by Usop Pagebangan with estimated 300 armed men and the second is lead by Five Eleven and Max IV with an estimated 200 men. Members of the 104th and the 105th Base Commands of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The conflict is cannot directly be said as an internal MILF issue, as only members of both base commanders were pulled into the conflict due to blood ties they have with the feuding parties. Casualties are estimated 20 and one negotiator from the area (an MILF commander) is reported killed in an attempt to pacify both sides.
As a result of this armed confrontation, more than 1000 families or 6000 individuals, from six barangays were directly affected and evacuated to safer ground, particularly to the areas south of the conflict, Maganao and Malatunol, in Poblacion. Families from the most northern village of Kiponget are unable to flee via land when one of the armed groups withdrew to that area. 13 families from Kiponget escaped by boat and arrived in Poblacion on July 2, haggard and hungry. Since then PASALI has requested the local government authorities to rescue more families by boat and over 100 families are now in evacuation centers.
The apparent cause of the conflict is a longstanding land ownership dispute and personal grudges of the families of local leaders Usop Pagabengan and Max IV. The land area is covered by about 300 hectares of land planted with coconut trees is which is currently occupied by the Maguindanaon family of Pagabenga from Cotabato but contested by the family of Max IV, of Tagabiwangan Maguindanaon. The former former warned the latter not to harvest within the contested portion of 20 hectares of coconut trees, but the latter ignored this warning since the land is customarily mortgaged ‘sangla’ to his family. After a skirmish between individuals from each family, the former mobilize an armed group with combined elements of the 105th Base Command of the MILF and some MNLF forces. The latter responds by mobilizing elements of the Regional Mobile Group (RMG) of the Philippine National Police and the armed auxiliary forces of the three barangays. The 104th Base Command was dragged into the conflict because of the blood relations of the feuding families.
On July 7, 2011 an agreement was forged by the MILF Coordinating Committee on Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH), its religious leaders and the members of the General Staff. The Agreement (Kapasadan) cited the commitment of all MILF parties involved in the feud to abide without restrictions the mandates of the MILF Central Committee through the BIAF General Staff in peaceful resolution of the problem. An order for a total ceasefire and a cease desist from further confrontation was enforced. Parties agreed to facilitate immediate and safe return of all internally displaced persons (IDPs) to their respective communities (to be undertaken by the local government). However, the situation remains volatile. Evacuees are not in compliance as fear for new eruptions of violence remains.
The local government was caught unprepared by the sudden spike of violence in the area. The mayor of Palimbang arrived after a week of heavy fighting (he is now back in Manila). Between June 23, and July 4, various groups came. Philippine Red Cross distributed food relief to 90 families via the Office of the Mayor. On June 28, PASALI arrived with its first batch of relief assistance of 500 food packets and a medical team. Its partner doctor from the medical team of Hearts and Brains was the first doctor in the area despite the presence of evacuees for almost a week. Red Cross International distributed tent materials and 300 sacks of rice on June 30. The provincial government distributed food relief of 1000 packets through DSWD via the Office of the Mayor. The local government distributed rice on various dates but the exact amount is unclear as different accounts are given by representatives and receiving evacuee families. PASALI distributed a second batch of relief assistance of food packets on July 5 to 1569 families and the medical team of Hearts & Brains held clinic in two evacuation sites (DSWD and the Office of the Mayor estimates 1596 families are affected). On July 6, PASALI brought six barangay captains and three barangay councelors, and a representative of the mayor’s office together to assess the needs of their communities. They agreed to each make needs assessments in order to draft plan for recovery and present it to the local government. On July 12, PASALI dispatched food packets to a 65 evacuee families who fled to Kalamansig, the municipality north of Palimbang. These families have not benefitted from any relief assistance distributed to their fellows in the other three evacuee areas. PASALI coordinates efforts there with the Kalamansig LGU.
At the end of the second batch, PASALI recorded 1,927 families, which the advance teams prior to the third batch of relief validated with help of local authorities. PASALI delivered goods to 1892 families and aiming for a quick household recovery, PASALI also distributed an assortment of kettles, water jugs, plates, spoons, forks and cups.
End of July, the armed groups promised the provincial and local government to leave. By the third batch, families began returning to their homes. The villagers of the places where the clashes took place and where the armed forces camped out, came back to their wooden houses with no walls, full of holes, and no roof and belongings destroyed or gone.
PASALI is looking into possibilities how to incorporate the northern area into project extensions in order to contribute to the area's recovery.