MAGUINDANAO, Philippines — Hundreds of residents were displaced by attacks by gunmen who burned houses, killed a villager and wounded three others in separate incidents in South Upi town.
Gunmen first attacked on New Year’s Eve a farming enclave in Barangay Itaw, South Upi and burned 13 houses abandoned by residents who fled from gunfire.
The incident forced 599 families to relocate to nearby barangays, according to local officials.
Thelmo Divinagracia Sase was killed while three others were hurt when gunmen attacked in Sitio Fanang, Barangay Pandan on Sunday afternoon a convoy of local officials returning to the town center from a relief mission for evacuees from Barangay Itaw.
South Upi Mayor Reynalbert Insular survived the ambush unscathed.
The three ambush victims, one of them a municipal relief worker, sustained gunshot wounds and were rushed to a hospital in Cotabato City, about 60 kilometers away.
No fewer than 200 families who live near the site of the ambush fled to safer areas.
The evacuees are reluctant to return to their homes despite the presence of soldiers dispatched by the Army's 6th Infantry Division to secure the adjoining Barangays Itaw and Pandan.
Major Gen. Juvymax Uy, 6th ID commander, said the culprits in the attacks on both barangays scampered in different directions when MG520 helicopters pounded their positions with rockets in sorties from between January 1 until before dusk Sunday.
He said personnel of the 57th Infantry Battalion helped transport the ambush victims to the town center of South Upi where they were fetched by ambulances that brought them to a hospital in Cotabato City.
Lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo, local government minister of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, said Monday the BARMM government will extend relief support to the South Upi residents.
Sinarimbo, who is regional spokesperson of BARMM, is overseeing the operation of the regional government’s Rapid Emergency Action on Disaster Incidence, or READI contingent that has a pool of relief workers and emergency responders.
BARMM Chief Minister Ahod Ebrahim, has asked the director of the Bangsamoro regional police, Police Brig. Gen. Samuel Rodriguez, to initiate an extensive probe into the South Upi attacks to find out who was behind them.