By Antonio M. Manaytay
IPIL, Zamboanga Sibugay (MindaNews/25 October) – The number of families displaced by the ongoing military operation in Payao, Zamboanga Sibugay against “lawless elements” has reached 2,368 families as of Monday, records at the provincial office of the Department of Social Welfare and Development showed.
Payao Mayor Jeomar Mendoza said Monday that 917 families went to their relatives living in safer areas of the municipality. The others fled to the neighboring towns of Alicia (1,237 families) and Talusan in Olutanga Island (214 families).
Mendoza said the evacuees came from Barangay Labatan and nearby barangays.
He disclosed that he instructed the displaced families to stay with their relatives in safe areas and not to troop to the town hall since there is reportedly a threat to attack the town proper.
As part of the precautionary measures, the mayor said he ordered businesses to close by 5 p.m. daily and the municipal hospital to close at night. Those who need medical treatment at night would be referred to other hospitals in the province, he added.
Mendoza also ordered the suspension of classes in elementary and secondary schools.
Flordeliza Alar, provincial coordinator of the government’s Pantawid ng Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), said some of the displaced persons are living in makeshift tents.
“Some of these IDPs (internally displaced persons) are in government centers while most of them are living precariously with their relatives,” she added.
Alar revealed that around 350 families in Barangay Labatan were trapped by the intense firefights that erupted Monday between government troops and suspected lawless elements.
Payao municipal welfare officer Belen Clavejo Diaz, however, assured that the local government was “doing its best to respond to the needs of the IDPs.”
Diaz said relief goods have been delivered to the IDPs, although she acknowledged difficulty in locating them since most of them are staying with their relatives.
Mendoza said they have extended relief goods to some 700 families.
OV-10 bombers did two rounds in sitio Taib, Barangay Labatan at noon Monday, and a third at around 4:30 p.m. on the same day. The explosions could be heard as far as Ipil, some 60 kilometers west of the site of encounter.
Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang, Western Mindanao Command spokesperson, said four Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels were killed in the renewed assault on a suspected lair of “lawless elements” in Labatan. Two soldiers were killed and four others were injured.
He clarified the assault was aimed at dismantling a criminal group under Juaning Abdusalam in line with President Aquino’s directive for the military and police to go after lawless elements.
Abdusallam reportedly leads a lawless group with alleged links to the MILF. His men were the suspects of the Oct. 8 kidnapping of Monalisa Capa in Pitogo town, Zamboanga del Sur.
Wesmincom chief Lt. Gen. Raymundo Ferrer said the joint law enforcement operations against the group of Abdulsalam will continue.
“He should be brought to justice for all the past kidnappings and extortions done by him and his group.” Ferrer said.
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