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Makabuat Ebon, 78, narrates to MindaNews how he and their neighbors fled their village in Sitio Biao, Barangay Kilada, Matalam, North Cotabato early morning of May 26 after nine persons were killed in an anti-illegal drugs near midnight. The evacuees set up makeshift tents on both sides of the Biao road in this photo taken on May 30. Kilada barangay captain Rowena de Leon said an estimated 70 to 80 families fled the village. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

Matalam 9: Encounter or massacre?

By Carolyn O. Arguillas
MindaNews .

(Last of two parts)

DAVAO City — “Wala namang massacre doon” but an encounter, Rowena de Leon, re-elected barangay captain of Kilada, said at the barangay hall.

De Leon said the Aban family is not from Barangay Kilada but arrived and settled in Sitio Biao last year and laid claim over some 90 hectares of land which she said are all titled lands registered in the names of the owners.

She said the Abans could not produce documents of ownership and became the subject of complaints that warranted a dialogue the mayor called for in November 2017.

As a result, an agreement was signed by Kulaga, Aban Kasan, Esmael Aban, Junggo Aban and Intan Aban as “claimants” and Angeles Mangawang and Raymundo Reyes and three tenants as “occupants.” In the Nov. 23, 2017 agreement, the Abans promised not to enter the land occupied by Mangawang, Batig and Reyes until the court has ruled on the issue and that they will not harass the occupants but allow them to do their daily activities on the land. The Abans also vowed they would not do anything that would cause trouble between them and the occupants.

The agreement, written in Filipino, was signed in the presence of four Muslim religious leaders and members of the Council of Elders and Mayor Cheryl Catamco and Vice Mayor Oscar Valdevieso, who all signed the document as witnesses.

De Leon said that despite the agreement, the Abans allegedly continued their harassment. She noted reports reaching her and the police that “gabi-gabi nagapaputok ng baril, tinututukan mga farmers, sila naga cultivate ng mga lupa” and that the armed men were allegedly involved in illegal drugs.

She said they wonder why they had firearms when Mindanao has been under martial law since May 23 last year.

De Leon said the May 25 raid was coordinated with the barangay and had a certification from the MNLF, the area being an MNLF community, she said.

Lahat ng kailangan na coordination, nagawa po,” she said.

Sr. Supt. Maximo Layugan, provincial police chief, said the operation to implement the search warrants was properly coordinated. “We have all the documents,” he said, including what de Leon said was a certification from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF)

He said the area is an MNLF community under Camp Datu Dima Ambil.

Butch Malang, chair of the MILF’s Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities, said there was no coordination with the MILF. He explained that MILF members in Sitio Biao are not newcomers but had married locals there.

“The question is bakit hindi dumaan sa protocol ng AHJAG ang PNP (Philippine National Police)? Bakit sumuko na ang mga tao, hindi na nila hawak ang mga baril nila ay pinagpapatay pa? … Ito ay isang massacre,” Malang said.

Under the ceasefire agreement with the government, the MILF and government peace panels created an Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) which provides for coordination should government forces operate against suspected criminals in MILF areas. (mindanews)

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