Thursday Feb, 29 2024 10:33:44 AM

Security path to marsh gas exploration: In death threat, Marsh village chair, kin of Army personnel in Marawi siege

Breaking News • 15:00 PM Tue Dec 5, 2023
Nash B. Maulana
Photo courtesy of Liguasan Marsh Corservation, an NGO promoting conservation of the marshland.

(First of Two Parts)

PIKIT, Cotabato—A barangay official seeks government protection from a security threat ostensibly posed by an armed group in a purported partisan intervention during the last October 30 village elections.

The armed group also took advance posting but is said to be not part of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) forces deployed by the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, to complement government forces in securing a forthcoming gas exploration in Ligawasan Marsh—as agreed by the national government and BARMM. The technical name of the marsh in most maps is "Liguasan" and its distinct indigenous name is "Lagawasan," which translates to "abundance" from the upstream (Laya) Magindanao dialect.

Otherwise, despite the killings in the town center mostly blamed on riding in tandem assailants, Pikit village elections, including those that are now part of BARMM, have posted one of the most peaceful and orderly in Cotabato Province.

But Gulam Guimbalanan, village chairman of Barangay Kabasalan in Pikit Cotabato, said he has had erratic schedules in reporting to an office in his village in the interior riverside part of Pikit, due to a direct threat to his life.

Last August, Guimbalanan’s family reported to local police that his house in Kabasalan was surrounded by armed men while the rest of his family was fast asleep at night.

The barangay chairman’s family wrote the Peace and Reconciliation Development Office of the BARMM seeking help to pacify the situation in his barangay, an old riverside settlement.

They said they instead encourage the armed supporters of the losing candidate to file a legal protest in the proper venue, rather than poising acts threatening elected village officials.

Present-day government interest

In late August, composite forces led by the Philippine Army troopers from the 90IB based in this town were deployed towards the Mindanao River upstream.

However, for reasons not openly known, the troops have yet to occupy the riverside Barangay Kabasalan, which is a river-wide away from the waterway through the heart of Ligawasan Marsh.

For his part, Guimbalanan said he had offered two unfinished concrete government buildings in Kabasalan for the soldiers to settle in. But troopers have since been encamped in a more open space in Barangay Balibet.

Meanwhile, officials said the counterpart of the government forces from the MILF has already crossed the Mindanao River purportedly to do their part in securing possible areas of operation for the government exploration of oil resources beneath the beds of Ligawasan Marsh.

Guimbalanan said he had sought the help of the Philippine Army’s 90 IB, based in Pikit, Cotabato for the protection of the barangay under him as the incumbent, re-elected chairman.

But ironically, Guimbalanan said, he had to face reports provided to the military that alleged he is a “relative” to a member of the BIFF, a Moro group that has ostensibly turned to extremism.

Zayton Abas, a senior BARMM interior government official, said the problem is rooted in “bullying.” Guimbalanan’s political opponents had sought “to place him in an underdog situation months to the last elections.”

Some candidates in the recent village polls sought political comfort zone in providing unverified reports to authorities, in the hope of receiving favorable cordial treatment in return, residents said.

Army officers from 2017 Marawi siege

Guimbalanan said he finds the situation ironic. In contrast, at least three of his family members or close relatives are members of the Philippine Army who stood for the government against terrorism at the Marawi Siege of 2017.

The barangay chairman’s nephew, then Philippine Army Capt. Amerodtin Guimbalanan earned his promotion to the next higher rank (on February 14, 2023), mostly from the merits he garnered from his tough assignment at Ground Zero as part of the Army’s combat engagements in the Marawi Siege.

Then Philippine Army chief, Lt. Gen Cirilito Sobejana invited Maj Guimbalanan to his office in Fort Bonifacio to help plan and implement a Mosque project that Sobejana wanted built across the PA Chapel.

General Sobejana soon became the 55th Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

That relatives met in ground zero was an “honor,” as Capt. Guimbalanan recalled he met his uncle Army Sgt. Zainodin Alimudin shouted on the megaphone in broken Maranao dialect at Ground Zero, addressing possible remnants of the dreaded Maute Gang “to surrender peacefully.” The combat-engaged sergeant said he was succeeded in that megaphone assignment by his nephew Cpl. Al Hussain Mikunug, who, he said, spoke better Maranao than he did. Mikunug, now retired, is also a nephew of Chairman Guimbalanan.

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