LUMASAL, Maasim, Sarangani (January 15, 2009) – Suspected members ofthe Lawless Moro Islamic Liberation Front Group (LMG) fired an explosive Wednesday evening (January 14) towards a school-evacuation center of civilians, mostly children.
Although no one was hurt among those taking shelter at Ireneo Lopez Elementary School, the evacuees feared the rebels are going after them for fleeing their village.
More than 300 families fled here after sighting scores of armed LMGsin their village up the mountains of Lumasal which is alongside two MILF camps.
"We believe these terrorists meant to harass the civilians while a pursuit operation is ongoing against them in the mountains," PoliceProvincial Director Danilo Peralta said.
An Explosive Ordinance Disposal team is conducting an investigation with the municipal police. Shrapnels found resemble an M-203 and fired with an improvised M-79 grenade launcher.
The impact area was a hill some 50 meters left of the school premises where the evacuees have been staying the past six days.
"We condemn this terrorist act against our innocent civilians who are defenseless," Mayor Aniceto Lopez, Jr. said."If they want to engage in a firefight, then they have to wage battle with the military and the police, not these innocent Tboli residents,"the mayor said."We were afraid.
We thought there will be more explosions," LitoTamnay, an evacuee, said. Tamnay's wife grabbed her nine children immediately and hid inside the classroom.
Jesel Chie, a 13-year old boy, related he trembled for fear after the explosion. His father, Nardo, said: "We wanted to run and hide but it was raining so we just lied down and find cover."
According to residents, two young men riding in a motorcycle stopped in the vicinity and fled after the explosion at about 8pm Wednesday.
Two platoons of the Barangay Defense System were taking turns in guarding the evacuees day and night.
These Tboli families found temporary shelter here Thursday last week after they sighted the armed LMG consolidating near their village.
Two hours after they vacated their homes, a firefight took place between the armed men and patrolling military troops.
"We have an ongoing operation in the boundaries of Kiamba and Maasim for one week already," said Lt. Col. Edgardo de Leon, commander of73rd Infantry Battalion.
"Our target is the reported LMG consolidating in Upper Lumasal. Ourtroops are closing in and they are running out of food.
We suspect that the explosion was meant for us to redirect our operations to ease the pressure on them," de Leon disclosed.
But De Leon said he was sending one platoon with armor to the evacuation center instead of pulling out the troops from the ongoing operation.
"They should not target the innocent civilians who are the victims oftheir hatred," said barangay police Jerry Ali, a Muslim.
Some groups of civilians have sworn to defend their families against the rebels. Mayor Lopez promised to help them."We cannot depend so much from the military. Let us keep the civilians to remain vigilant and be able to defend themselves at once," Lopezsaid.
Task Force Makima (Maasim-Kiamba-Maitum) Director and Vice Governor Steve Chiongbian Solon said the task force's information system will be more enhanced for the community to safeguard themselves and fully cooperate.
"We have our multiplier forces, these are our civilian forces who are the composite of the task force," Solon said.
Since last week, three explosions have occurred in Region XII, earlierin Midsayap and Kalamansig, causing injuries to at least three innocent civilians.
"I condemn the barbaric act of attempting to terrorize and harm innocent civilians who have taken shelter in public school because of the presence of armed LMGs," Governor Miguel A. Dominguez said.
"We will continue to pursue any armed group with the full strength of the armed forces. We will not allow any armed group to continue to sow fear and harm civilians," Dominguez said.
"No amount of justification can be made for terroristic activities. I call on all the citizens of the region to remain vigilant in combating lawless groups whose mission is to sow fear and terror," the governor added. (Russtum G. Pelima/SARANGANI INFORMATION OFFICE)