More than 8,000 people in North Cotabato and Maguindanao have fled their homes as clashes between members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) continued, authorities said Monday.

“The situation is escalating” as there are already evacuations in six barangays of Pikit and these are “continuing,” Cynthia Ortega, head of the North Cotabato Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC) said by phone.

As of 2 p.m. Monday, a total of 1,702 families or more than 8,000 people were monitored to have evacuated in Brgys. Barungis, Bagoinged, Buliok, Rajah Muda, Bulol, and Kabasalan, Ortega said.

“‘Di lang sila makabigay ng update doon kasi sige ang evacuation… We can say nag-escalate na ‘yung situation kasi marami nang barangays ang affected,” she said.

About 500 families also evacuated in neighboring Pagalungan, Maguindanao, where the clashes are occurring, according to initial reports recieved by the Office of Civil Defense-Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Senior Superintendent Danilo Peralta, North Cotabato provincial police director, said clashes between the MILF and BIFF are “continuing” in Pagalungan and have forced many residents there to evacuate to Pikit.

“Marami sa mga ito ay taga-Pagalungan, tumawid sila dito para makaiwas dun sa bakbakan ng MILF at BIFF doon sa kanila,” Peralta said when contacted by phone during his visit to an evacuation center.

Sounds of the ongoing clashes can sometimes be heard in Pikit, which is just adjacent to Pagalungan, he said.

“Minsan, ‘pag tahimik, nadidinig namin dito ‘yung mga mortar (explosion), mangilan-ngilan,” Peralta said.

The official, however, noted that policemen and soldiers do not interfere in the fighting because it is “internal” to the MILF and BIFF.

Peralta, meanwhile, said authorities in Pikit find no problem in hosting evacuees from Pagalungan and are even handing them relief goods.

“Welcome naman dito ‘yung mga taga-Maguindanao kasi ‘yang Maguindanao dati ring Cotabato ‘yan, nahati lang, so kahit taga-doon ang evacuees, kahit Bangsamoro sila at may Christians kami dito, welcome sila at binibigyan ng pagkain dito,” Peralta said. (John Roson)

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