About 2,000 residents of Datu Montawal, Maguindanao, have also fled their homes for fear of getting caught in the middle of fighting between members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), authorities said Wednesday.

This, as the ARMM Humanitarian Emergency Action and Response Team (ARMM-HEART) reported more evacuees and several houses were burned in Pagalungan because of the fighting.

A total of 468 families, or roughly 2,300 people, living in Brgy. Talitay, Datu Montawal, have been displaced as of Tuesday afternoon, Jo Henry, information officer at the ARMM-HEART, said by phone.

“Nag-escalate sa kabilang munisipyo… ‘Yung mga naglalaban, parang doon tumakbo, doon naghabulan sa Montawal,” she said.

Datu Montawal is adjacent to Pagalungan — where the clashes occur — as well as Pikit of North Cotabato.

Of the displaced families in Datu Montawal, 416 are now taking shelter in Sitio Pidtulangian, also in Brgy. Talitay, while 52 crossed to Pikit and Kabacan, where they have relatives, Henry said.

Captain Jo-Ann Petinglay, public affairs officer of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said the last monitored fighting between MILF and BIFF forces occurred around 12 noon Tuesday in Pagalungan.

The military has not recieved reports of fighting in Datu Montawal, Petinglay said by phone.

Houses burn in ‘no man’s land’

Henry said the fighting in Pagalungan has left at least five houses burned while two barangays are considered as “no man’s land.”

“Ang report sa amin ngayon may limang bahay na ang nasunog sa Sitio Balungis, Brgy. Kalbugan, kung saan nangyari ‘yung bakbakan. ‘Yung bakbakan nagsimula sa Sitio Tatak, also in Kalbugan,” she said.

Members of the ARMM-HEART went to Pagalungan Wednesday to bring relief goods and check on the situation, but were only able visit evacuation centers in the town proper.

“Hindi kami makapasok doon sa looban, doon sa Kalbugan, nasa interior kasi ‘yun, malayo dito sa mga evacuation center… ‘yung Kalbugan saka Buliok dineclare na ‘no man’s land’ ‘nung mga nag-aaway. Wala nang tao ngayon doon,” Henry said.

20,000 flee in Pikit, Pagalungan

Henry said 1,502 families comprised of 9,742 individuals have been displaced in Pagalungan alone.

“Nanawagan ‘yung local government ng Pagalungan ng tulong kasi talagang hirap ang mga tao sa evacuation center. Marami naman nang tumulong, DSWD, UNHCR, at mga non-government organizations pero kailangan kasi masustain,” she said.

Aside from food and water, evacuees are currently in need of tarpaulins that they can use as tents or sleeping mats, Henry said.

The Pagalungan municipal gymnasium, which currently being used as an evacuation center, is already filled up so some evacuees are staying outside with no roof on their heads, she said.

In Pikit, meanwhile, a total of 1,982 families comprised of 10,664 persons have been displaced, Office of Civil Defense-12 director Minda Morante said.

The displaced persons are residents of Brgy. Kabasalan, Raja Muda, Barungis, Buliok, Bulol, and Bagoinged, Morante said in an emailed report. (John Roson)

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