MAASIM, Sarangani (January 11, 2009) – Community vigilance of Tboli families in barangay Lumasal has led them to safety by temporarily leaving their homes and seeking refuge in a nearby school.
Sightings by residents of armed men possibly consolidating in the hinterlands of adjacent barangay Pananag early morning Thursday(January 8) triggered their evacuation.
Their quick action preempted them to be caught in the crossfire. A chance encounter took place barely two hours later between patrolling government troops and scores of unidentified armed men.
Lt. Col. Edgardo de Leon, commander of the 73rd Infantry Battalion,said he has been receiving information from the community since lastweek. He immediately ordered a long range patrol in the area.
"We suspect they came from adjacent towns of South Cotabato or Sultan Kudarat province, not from here," de Leon said. "They are possibly planning an attack.
"In the recent firefight, de Leon said there were no troop casualties.However, there were possible casualties at the enemy side as the soldiers traced footsteps and blood stains after the encounter that lasted less than an hour.
Some 100 families, mostly Tboli natives, came down from their homes to seek refuge at Ireneo Lopez Elementary School in Lumasal to avoid being caught in the firefight.
In the afternoon, the province's quick response team and the town's social welfare and development office arrived with sacks of rice and medicines for the evacuees while the military continued hot pursuit operations.
Lumasal is located alongside Kiamba town's barangay Katubao and Pananag of Maasim. Both have Moro Islamic liberation Front (MILF)camps, according to Mayor Aniceto Lopez, Jr.
"It's now the people who give information to us regarding the presence of these unlawful armed men who would usually threaten them," Lopez said.
Vice Governor Steve Chiongbian Solon, who is Task Force Makima (Maasim, Kiamba, Maitum) director, emphasized civilians' safety depend much on their vigilance and participation.
"The composite partner of Task Force Makima is the community, and now they are playing their part by giving us information and defending their own barangays," Solon said.
A number of barangay defense force members oversee the evacuees at the school and are ready to defend them.
"The local government unit, Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police augment their effort so we really have a holistic approach against further threats and disturbances," the vicegovernor said.
"We will not stop in improving our task force until the full supportof the community is there," Solon added.
De Leon said residents can go back to their homes but he wants to assure their safety by continuing the long range patrols. (Russtum G.Pelima/SARANGANI INFORMATION OFFICE)