The Buliok war in February 2003 has long been over. Or is it? Last February 5, 2005, or nearly two years after the Buliok war ended, a farmer was seriously wounded by an unexploded 60mm. mortar shell which he accidentally hit in his farm-lot in Sitio, Talab, Kudal in Pagalungan, Maguindanao. Bantay Ceasefire views with great concern the danger that unexploded ordnances, including handmade booby traps that were used by combatants, pose to civilians in former war areas.
The Buliok war in February 2003 has long been over. Or is it?
Last February 5, 2005, or nearly two years after the Buliok war ended, a farmer was seriously wounded by an unexploded 60mm. mortar shell which he accidentally hit in his farm-lot in Sitio, Talab, Kudal in Pagalungan, Maguindanao.
Buka Kasiyat, a 45-year old Maguindanao farmer, was weeding out at around 8 a.m some overgrown grasses in his farm land in Sitio Talab, when he hit with his bolo the UXO (unexploded ordnance). Kasiyat was hit by shrapnel in various parts of his body and was brought to the Cruzado Hospital in Pikit, North Cotabato, where he is recovering.
Kasiyat’s neighbors believe the mortar shell came from the military, saying that Kasiyat’s farmland had been occupied by elements of the 6th Marine Landing Team during the Buliok war.
Five days after, on February 10, another UXO was found by chance near the bank of the Pulangi River. Two pieces of 81 mm. mortar shells were discovered in Sitio Sapakan, Buliok, Pagalungan by Buliok Kagawad Menandang Mamolindas and nearby residents.
Although there was no explosion and no casualties in the second incident, the presence of these deadly war materials in civilian areas are very risky to civilians.
Economic activities are also affected, with farmers in the nearby areas of sitio Talab expressing fear of tilling their farms after learning of Kasiyat’s misfortune.
Bantay Ceasefire views with great concern the danger that UXOs, including handmade booby traps that were used by combatants, pose to civilians in former war areas. The second Bantay Ceasefire mission, coducted on July 13-15, 2003 in Pikit, Cotabato and Pagalungan, Maguindanao, had already alerted both the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) of this danger. The mission report had then recommended in its “human security” section for both the AFP and the MILF to cooperate in mine clearing operations including landmines, bombs, ordnance and booby traps, with assistance from independent experts.
In that report, Bantay Ceasefire had documented two cases of civilian casualties in Pikit (from an exploding howitzer shell and from anti-personnel booby traps) to underscore that the threat of UXOs was real. But despite publication of the report and efforts to raise awareness on this issue, the situation has clearly remained unchanged. Hence the latest civilian casualty.
Are we to wait for the next deadly reminder?
The Bantay Ceasefire again urges both government and MILF to exert efforts to clean up of war material the civilian areas which they had used as their battlegrounds. This is to assure the civilians, of which both sides avow to protect, that there will be no unnecessary deaths or injuries to non-combatants from unexploded war materials, long after the fighting has stopped.
We also urge technical assistance from international experts, such as those from the Ban Landmines campaign, to the GRP and the MILF on mine clearing operations. We ask these international groups to help ensure that both parties will strictly follow any treaties or agreements that they have acceded to on this matter.
The wars in Mindanao are being fought with deadly arsenal such as bombs dropped from planes, rockets fired by assault helicopters, howitzers, mortars, grenades and handheld rocket launchers. Not a few are duds or miss their targets, there to lodge on the ground like ticking time bombs for any unsuspecting man, woman or child, or animal, for that matter. With at least four major wars in central Mindanao since 1997 and with armed clashes continuing in the former war areas up to now, what guarantees are there for non-combatants safety, long after the fighting has stopped?