National, local governments’ help sought in conflict-torn Bumbaran-Talakag villages

Sonny Boy Pondi and wife Alice map out the clash points in 10 conflict torn villages along the border of Talakag town in Bukidnon and Bumbaran in Lanao del Sur/Bukidnon News photo by Walter Balane

MALAYBALAY CITY  (Bukidnon News/20 January) The clan conflict in 10 villages along the border of Talakag, Bukidnon and Bumbaran, Lanao del Sur are aimed at driving non-Maranao settlers in the area, Sonny Boy Pondi, who stands as the chairperson of the group, told Bukidnon News.

Two groups of armed men, the Dimas and the Mama Orak (or Mamurak) group figured in clashes since January 2012 sending villagers to flee to neighboring Talakag town.

The villages belonged to Bumbaran’s geographic boundary but were adopted by Talakag said Pondi, a former Moro Islamic Liberation Front combatant who married a Pentecostal pastor.

He has appealed for help from the government for their conflict-torn villages. He said the government must look at their plight and help them be recognized by the local government of Bumbaran, Lanao del Sur.  The villagers have asked the military to set up a detachment to drive the bandits away, he added citing previous resolutions passed.

The Maranao former combatant confirmed reports from the military that the conflict in the area is rido (clan conflict).

“But it is not just rido, it is a conflict that is meant to drive the settlers,” he said in an interview last week. Pondi, by affiliation, is the only Maranao permanent resident in the area. Most of the residents are Dumagat and indigenous peoples, including Manobo, Bukidnon, and Talaandig, Pondi added. There were also Ifugaos who settled in the area and tended vegetable gardens.

“If they are saying it to allow the conflict to go on and scare the people away, then that’s happening,” he added.

His wife, Alice, said Pondi was selected as the area’s leader since 2000 so he can serve as emissary to the Maranaos.

“The only reason why they are not attacking Canaan, the poblacion area, is because I’m here. I was asked to leave my wife,” Pondi said, then paused briefly,” but I will not do that, I will not leave my wife.”

Pondi said two groups of Maranao bandits are at war with each other in the villages of Kilabuntod, Katipunan, and Kahayagan, affecting the safety and the economy of at least 3,000 villagers.

He said the armed groups, who continued a decade-old conflict, have each claimed ownership of the lands occupied by the settlers since the early 1990s. The first settlers worked for a logging concessionaire, which was owned by a Maranao businessman. When it folded up, the workers remained in the area and cleared the land for farming.

Pondi said when the settlers were able to develop the area and now manage hundreds of hectares of  vegetable farms and other crops, armed Maranaos clans showed up and start to collect exorbitant ‘rent’ or share of the harvest.

In 2001, a series of claims were started from one group of Maranao claimants to another. Pondi said they were mostly from Marawi, expanding the residence in the area.

He said because Bumbaran does not own them as part of the town, they are now a group of villages that belonged practically to no municipality especially in a time of conflict. Alice said their adoption by Talakag does not include protection from the bandits as the Talakag police refuse to enter the area that belonged to the ARMM police.

Pondi cited political conflict as allegedly why the town does not want to include the villages. He said he was formerly connected with the Adiongs who were then political rivals of Bumbaran mayor Mastura Manabilang.

“Bisan kinsa nga mga armado ang mihasi sa amo kay diri wala’y gobyerno, “(One armed group after another has harassed as because here there is no government) his wife, Alice who heads the Christ Life Fellowship in Canaan said.

When there is no one in charge, she added, there will be peace and order problem.  She said the conflict resulted not only in the looting of farms.

“At most of the problems is that our children have to stop schooling,” she added, noting teachers were afraid to come back since armed conflict began in January.

“We are trying our best that the peace and order problem will be addressed so that our children can go back to school,” Alice added.

Children in the village go to Upper Tigason Elementary School, after Sitio Tigason in Barangay Dominorog , Talakag, Bukidnon, a village across the Maridugao River.

Although teachers from the Department of Education run this school, this is not built by the government, Alice said. The Joint Together Society, a Korean non-government organization built it in early 2005.

While they already have a school catering to 10 villages, as of February 2012, they still have no health center, they are not enrolled to the government’s conditional cash transfer program, and not any of them belonged to the indigent program of Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (Philhealth), Alice added.

“We are out of the fence. If we will be driven away from here where will we go?” she added.

The couple has proposed that aside from sending troops, the government must also send development programs starting with a survey of the lands to clarify territories.

“If they send troops, please don’t let them rendezvous with the parties to the conflict in Brgy. Mansilano, where the armed bandits led by Mamurak or Mama Orak, one of the two groups, are based.

They have also asked that their area be recognized as a separate barangay and that Bumbaran will include them.

Pondi and his wife have pushed for local peace talks to be pursued to clarify which areas belonged to whom. Pondi said the government could also form a CAFGU team among them, like what was done in the villages of Somugot and Frankfurt, both in Bumbaran.

“At least we have arms to protect ourselves that are legal,” he added, citing right now many of them bought makeshift or paltik guns.

“If the government intervenes, there will be hope,” he added.  (Walter I. Balane/Bukidnon News)


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