Arm Butig residents to fight Maute? Mayor says no
LANAO DEL SUR, Philippines (UPDATED) – Should the citizens of Butig, Lanao del Sur be armed by the government to defend themselves against the Maute group? This was the main topic during a special session of the Butig Municipal Peace and Order Council (MPOC) Saturday, December 3.
Showing defiance against the local terror group, barangay officials present said they want the military to give them firearms to fight the Maute group that occupied their town and prompted a military offensive that forced residents to abandon their homes.
"Kung talagang bigyan niyo ako ng pulutan at bigyan ng baril, laban na talaga sa Maute group yan (If you are going to supply me with bullets and firearms, I will really fight that Maute group)," said an angry Punde Ander, chairman of Barangay Butig Proper, during the meeting at the National Irrigation Authority building where the municipal government has been holding office since they abandoned the town hall in Butig Proper.
"Talagang lalaban ako. Kahit diyan ako mamatay (I will fight. Even if it is going to cause my death)," said Ander. The crowd erupted in applause.
Firefights happening at a distance could be heard during the highly-charged meeting.
Ander and the other village officials present were serious. Illegal firearms abound in the town where rido or clan wars are pervasive. What they want is authority from government to fight the Maute group and for the government to supply them the munitions.
Mayor says no
But Butig Mayor Dimnatang Pansar rejected the proposal. What he wants is a military detachment inside Butig.
"Hindi po maganda yun (It is not good). That is why we are requesting the national government and I told President Digong Duterte himself: Lagyan ng (Let's put a) permanent station ang military in Butig," Pansar said.
"It is not the duty of civilians to arm themselves. It is the duty of the armed forces to protect the people," he added.
The situation in Butig is complicated. Clans that are at war with the Maute family and their local supporters have benefited from the offensive. Arming them could drag the military into personal conflicts.
Pansar said majority of the residents of Butig sympathize with the military and not with the Maute Group. He claimed that most of the Maute fighters there are not from Butig.
Not all of the town's barangay chairmen were present at the meeting, however. Pansar claimed those chairmen do not necessarily support the Maute Group, but may be afraid, like many residents, that the group will get back at them if they openly defy them.
Military camp, CAFGUs in Butig
The ground commander in Butig, Colonel Rosseler Murillo of the Army 103rd Brigade, said military presence in Butig is one of the commitments that Duterte made to Pansar when the president visited the province last week. The details have yet to be sorted, however.
Pansar also said he discussed the details with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana during Duterte's visit. "Sabi ko, 'Sir, tingnan mo nangyari sa Abu Bakr after all-out-war. May permanent military presence. Kampo ng brigade. Hanggang ngayon nanantiling peaceful ang area'," said Pansar.
(I said, 'Sir, look what happened to Abu Bakr after an all-out-war. They maitained military presence: a brigade camp. The area has remained peaceful.)
Murillo said they are considering the recruitment of residents to become members of the Civilian Auxilliary Forces Group Unit (CAFGU).
"They are the primary stakeholders. Hindi kami. Andito kabuhayan nila. Andito pamilya nila (It is not us. Their livelihoods are here. Their families are here)," said Murillo.
Clearing operations continue
The military continues to bar residents from returning to certain barangays as they continue operations to clear the areas of remaining Maute members or of improvised explosive devices.
Murillo denied that the members of Maute continue to spread to different barangays.
To speed up the clearing, Ander also proposed that barangay chairmen should go back to their areas to check for remaining Maute members.
Murillo invited them to discuss a plan at the Army tactical command post, but only Ander was willing to go. There are concerns that barangay chairmen will be blamed by the military if firefights erupt in areas they will declare to be free of Maute members.
The Maute group last week occupied about 10 hectares of the small town in Lanao Del Sur, raised the black flag of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) at the abandoned municipal hall in Barangay Butig Proper, and meshed with the local residents.
It took the military 6 days to regain control of the municipal hall. The troops continue to move house-to-house to clear the town of the members of Maute. – Rappler.com