Inside Marawi - 'An ongoing crisis'

Marawi: An ongoing crisis

WHAT could be President Rodrigo R. Duterte's greatest challenge so far in his less than one year in office could be what is going on in Marawi City since Tuesday last week, and how he can put an end to the gunbattle there.

In the afternoon of May 23, 2017, there was just one post on Facebook that read, "Pray for Marawi". But typical of netizens, there was no other detail.

Then came messages asking for updates, and still noting was being confirmed. The social media was already abuzz by then, sharing photos of armed men in black on empty streets, and a burning building, which they said was that of a school.

There were worried inquiries and claims that terrorists have taken over the Amai Pakpak Medical Center in Marawi, the terrorists have hoisted their flag over the tertiary hospital, the CNN Philippines reported. This report was later denied. As quoted in a report by Raffy Tima on GMA's "24 Oras", Dr. Amer Saber, medical chief of the hospital, said, "There was no hostage taking. They were not able to raise any ISIS flag in this area." Official confirmations, however, would only come by early evening.

Yes, Marawi City is under siege by a group of black-clad armed men identifying themselves as followers of the Islamic State (IS). They were not.

They were the Maute Group, as reported by the Philippine Star. Later in the evening it was learned that the siege was triggered by an offensive to get senior terrorist Insilon Hapilon. Firefights between the terrorists and government soldiers broke out at around 2 p.m. of May 23 at Basak Malutlut in Marawi where Hapilon was supposed to be.

Hapilon's group called out for reinforcement from the Maute group and thus came what was claimed to be 500 Maute bandits who attacked the 103rd Brigade of the Philippine Army in Camp Ranao.

From there, the bandits spread all over the city spreading terror. Terror reigns Official numbers as of May 28, Sunday, say that death toll has already reached 92 following the recovery of 16 bodies of civilians on Saturday.

Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said 61 militants, including six foreigners, have been killed together with 11 soldiers and four police since Tuesday.

The dead civilians included a group of four men, three women and a child who were found near a road close to the Mindanao State University in Marawi, and eight men said to be bakery workers who were gunned down on the road at barangay Emi in the outskirts of Marawi City and thrown off a shallow cliff nearby.

"The all-male victims' hands were tied with rope and had bullet wounds," a report from Lanaodel Sur provincial police office said. One of the bodies has a paper sign that claims they "betrayed their faith". This message sends a shiver down the collective spines of Marawi people as it has been spread by word of mouth that the terrorists were rounding up people and demanding them to prove that they are Muslims, the non-Muslims being killed.

But betraying the faith means they are of the same, and the terrorists are no longer making any distinctions.

What is grabbing everyone's attention, however, is the declaration of Martial Law over the whole of Mindanao, including Basilan and Sulu provinces by President Duterte on the night of May 23, while he was still in Russia on the first day of his state visit.

Proclamation No. 216 declares Martial Law for 60 days and suspends the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus for the same period.

Cautious support The President then cut short his state visit, even before it could officially start and he could meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Militant groups cried foul, saying there is no need for a martial law. This protest was joined by forces of the Liberal Party in Metro Manila.

But support for the declaration remains overwhelming, albeit cautious.

Among those who gave their support was the Catholic Bishops of Mindanao, which urged the President to "Pursue what leads to peace." "We have many fears. But at present we simply do not have solid and sufficient facts to absolutely reject the declaration of Martial Law as morally reprehensible. But we are certainly agreed that Martial Law must be temporary," the statement added, while reminding government that they will be monitoring the developments and will condemn any abuses committed under Martial Law.

"We exhort everyone to be calm in the face of Martial Law, to be obedient to the just commands of lawful authority, and not to provoke violent reaction. We urge the government to remove the causes of terrorism, such as poverty and injustice, through just and accountable governance focused solely on the common good," read the statement signed by Orlando B. Cardinal Quevedo, OMI, Archbishop of Cotabato in behalf of the Mindanao Bishops.

A joint statement issued last May 27, 2017 of all Ateneo presidents take on the same tone of cautious support. "We call on our government officials to act judiciously as they exercise the immense range of their power.Civilian rule must always reign supreme over military rule. We call on everyone to remain vigilant, to hold our officials accountable for their actions, to demand to know and to be told the truth at all times. We expect that the safeguards placed in our Constitution to curb the abuse of power will be respected and followed. And we trust our President when he tells us that martial rule shall only be limited and temporary," the statement read.

The joint statement was signed by Fr. Karel S. San Juan SJ, President of Ateneo de Zamboanga University; Fr. Joel E. Tabora SJ, President of Ateneo de Davao University; Fr. Jose Ramon T. Villarin SJ, President of Ateneo de Manila University; Fr. Primitivo E. Viray Jr. SJ, President of Ateneo de Naga University, and; Fr. Roberto C. Yap SJ, President of Xavier University- Ateneo de Cagayan.

On May 26, Friday, Duterte flew to Iligan to condole with the relatives of slain soldiers and a civilian and visit the wounded, as well as attend a situation briefing at the 2nd Mechanized Infantry Brigade (MIB) headquarters.

The following day he was in Jolo, Sulu to buoy the spirits of the soldiers wounded in an ambush staged by the Abu Sayyaf Group that resulted to the death of one and wounding of 12 others.

The siege in Marawi does not mean that all other unrests and terroristic activities borne from decades of neglect and unheard cries have stopped. Over in The Netherlands, the government panel suspended the 5th round of peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People's Army, and National Democratic Front.

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