By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan
[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