THROWBACK: The fall of Camp Abubakar

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

The MILF flag is brought down after the seizure of Camp Abubakar. (Grab from ABS-CBN’s TV Patrol)

The MILF flag is brought down after the seizure of Camp Abubakar. (Grab from ABS-CBN’s TV Patrol)

[UPDATED] Camp Abubakar, a place firmly associated with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the long-winded struggle for peace in Mindanao, no longer evokes the immense respect, fear or awareness it once did almost two decades ago.

Until the late 1990s, the camp was not just the stronghold of the rebel group but also its largest settlement and seat of its Shariah-based government.

Its territory stretched to tens of thousands of hectares (initial figures were 2,000, later stretching from 10,000-15,000; in some accounts, up to 32,000), covering the Maguindanao towns of Barira, Buldon, Matanog and Parang. Forests and bodies of water acted as natural barriers around the camp, augmented by trenches and tunnels dug by the MILF.

The group’s leaders—founder and chairman Salamat Hashim and then-military chief Al Haj Murad Ibrahim—lived and held office there. Abubakar contained a school, a training academy, a hospital, businesses, farms and markets, providing for the needs of its fighters and civilian residents.

The camp meant security for those claiming allegiance to the Bangsa Moro, but caution for the Christian locals and armed forces surrounding it. None dared approach or pass through.

All that changed on July 9, 2000 when Camp Abubakar fell into the hands of the Philippine military at the end of a two-month offensive. More than 20,000 residents were affected by the clash. Continue reading

Wanted in Maguindanao: Hassle-less elections

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

2013 Campaign posters on the streets of Buluan, Maguindanao (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

2013 campaign posters in Buluan (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

BULUAN, MAGUINDANAO–The rural air is occasionally broken by blaring music. It’s different from the familiar amplified chants calling Muslims to prayer five times a day. The sources of the music: roving rented mini-pickups packed with speakers and dressed in campaign posters.

One vehicle plays a down-tempo, pop tune repeating the nickname of a provincial candidate as a chorus. Another passes by moments later, blasting a rap-style song in Maguindanaoan extolling the virtues of another candidate.

It’s my second election coverage here in Maguindanao. With me are the same reporter, a few same crew mates, and some newbies to this election hotspot. Some elements have changed in three years, the sound of campaign jingles one pleasant surprise.

ABS-CBN satellite set up at the Rajah Buayan Silongan Peace center - Maguindanao provincial satellite office, May 2013 (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Our set up at the Maguindanao provincial satellite office in Buluan (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

Our haunts have changed too, mirroring the changes in local politics. Since we arrived, we’ve set up our live point outside the Rajah Buayan Silongan Peace Center here in Buluan–the de facto capitol building which was not around in 2010.

Last election, we were stationed outside the provincial complex in capital Shariff Aguak. The capitol there is still imposing but unoccupied. The compound’s sole tenants are a brigade of soldiers.

We merely pass by Shariff Aguak on our two-to-three-hour trips from Cotabato City. The standout mansions of the Ampatuans still loom near the capitol, yet even this bailiwick of the clan seems less hushed than it looked before. More residents roam the town center, and the campaign posters are more varied.

Continue reading