POLLOC PORT, Maguindanao — Fresh from their stint in Basilan, some 300 additional troops from the 7th Marine Battalion Landing Team (MBLT) arrived here yesterday to boost efforts on restoring peace and order in Cotabato City following a spate of kidnapping and bombing incidents targeting against the local business sector.
“We are here upon the request of Cotabato City officials and business leaders,” Marine Forces Eastern Mindanao Commander Philip Cacayan told newsmen here during a welcome ceremony conducted by the city government.
The additional Marine force forms part of a small contingent, comprising some 50 Marine personnel, sent earlier this month to immediately address the rising criminality in the city.
Prior to their arrival, two kidnappings and four bombings occurred, respectively, in a span of three months in the area.
Cacayan said the 7th MBLT will not focus mainly in Cotabato City but also parts of nearby Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat provinces where intermittent fighting between armed factions of influential clans were reported.
“Actually, another 300 Marine troopers would be deployed in the coastal areas of Kalamansig and Lebak in Sultan Kudarat and Datu Blah Sinsuat in Maguindanao,” the Marine official said.
“Our order is to stay in the areas concerned as long as our presence is needed,” he stressed. PNA
During the Marines’ first deployment here in the mid-90s, crime significantly decreased, including kidnappings and bombings, due to a series of arrests made by Marines against outlaws.
Sometime in 2002 after a change in the national leadership, the Marines were pulled out from Cotabato and reassigned to hostile parts in Basilan, Sulu and Lamitan.
“Now that they are back, Cotabatenos are somehow relieved of their fears from criminal activities that have hounded the city for several years,” Cotabato City Mayor Japal Guiani Jr. said.
The mayor, who led in welcoming the Marine contingent, pointed out that the soldiers could also help much on instilling “discipline” among Cotabatenos, particularly the youth.
“The Marines as an elite fighting force has the reputation of valueing discipline and this can be instilled on the minds of the young Cotabatenos who are exposed on illegal acts such as gang wars, drugs and gamblings, among other vices,” he said.
The 7th MBLT was based temporarily in Pedro Colina Hill, a military reservation area in Cotabato, where the undermanned local police force, comprising of 150 cops and personnel, is also holding office.
Cotabato City has a population of over 200,000 Christian and Muslim settlers.