Marawi siege to go beyond 60 days

MANILA (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Operations to liberate the besieged city of Marawi may continue even after the 60-day limit of President Rodrigo Duterte’s martial law on July 22 and his second state of the nation address on July 24. 

The liberation of Marawi is well under way but it cannot be completed by July 22 when the martial law President Rodrigo Duterte declared in Mindanao expires, the military said on Friday.

The military bared the assessment as five Catholic prelates expressed concern at suggestions, particularly by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, that martial law be extended for five  years or the remainder of the President’s term.

Military spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said the military is still assessing the security situation even as the Marawi crisis nears its end.

Not before Sona

But Padilla admitted operations, including airstrikes, may continue even beyond July 24, when the President delivers his State of the Nation Address (Sona) before Congress.

 “We are right into the 10 to 15 days of the President,” Padilla said referring to Mr. Duterte’s expressed desire that the military liberate Marawi within that period.

“But the 10 to 15 days [will go] beyond the Sona, by the way, so don’t expect it before the Sona,” Padilla said, noting the military has yet to clear 600 houses and buildings in Marawi.

With the military clearing 40 to 50 houses a day, Padilla said they might need another 12 days to clear the city of 70 to 80 terrorists who attacked the city on May 23.

Casualties

As of 7 p.m. on July 13, security forces have killed 394 terrorists and recovered 498 firearms. But government fatalities numbered 93 while the terrorists killed 45 civilians.

Troops were able to rescue 1,723 people from the war-torn city but there are still some 300 civilians who are either trapped by the fighting or taken hostage by the terrorists.

Brig. Gen. Ramiro Rey, commander of the Joint Task Force Group Ranao, told reporters on Thursday they need to flush out Maute terrorists hiding in fortified positions in four barangays (villages).

“We will continue with the use of FA-50 [multirole fighter jets] as long as the strategic target will take down the terrorist group,” Rey said.

He said that was the reason they to continue to conduct air strikes despite the 12 deaths the military sustained from friendly fire.

On Wednesday, two more soldiers were killed while 11 others were wounded by shrapnels when a bomb exploded 250 meters off-target. Last May 31, at least 10 soldiers were killed in a similar “friendly fire.”

The military said they are investigating the incidents but they still need air support in Marawi.

“In the four barangays (where the terrorists are holed up), the fighting has subsided in two [but] there is still heavy fighting in the other two,” Padilla said.

“It could be that the leaders of this group are there or they are guarding something there that we still do not know about,” Padilla added.

Joint Task Force Marawi spokesperson Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera said surgical air assaults are very important in the fight because the terrorists are occupying major strongholds and fortified defense positions.

“This is what we need to take down using airstrikes,” he said. “We are close to the center of gravity and we are gaining more ground.”

Churchmen wary

But at least five Catholic bishops are apprehensive of moves to extend martial law in Mindanao.

“I support martial law but for the extension … Our president and legislators must evaluate the situation. The situation has to be investigated before saying we need more years,” Ozamiz Archbishop Martin Jumoad said.

Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes warned that continued military rule will only worsen the peace and order situation and possibly increase human rights violations.

“Even if 57 percent of Filipinos approve of martial law in Mindanao now, I don’t believe that the majority will like to extend it for five years,” Bastes said.

For his part, Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David suggested conducting a survey among Mindanao residents if they favor extending martial law for five years.

“Instead of getting the pulse of majority of Filipinos, the survey should also find out if majority of the people of Mindanao, Christians and Muslims, would agree to an extended martial law in Mindanao,” he said.

David is the incoming vice president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines and is set to assume his post in December.

Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma agreed, saying the termination of martial law or its extension should be determined by circumstances.

“To me, martial law with its termination or extension should be determined by circumstances. To determine appropriateness and decide now is unrealistic,” Palma said.

“Yes, many favor it now, including myself. To say it’s OK to extend another five years is simplistic,” he said.

Address conflict’s roots

Kidapawan Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo stressed that the government should instead pursue better governance and poverty alleviation.

“Many also agree with the Mindanao bishops’ position that martial law is and should be temporary. Better governance and poverty alleviation should be pursued relentlessly by all. War in Marawi never again,” the prelate said.

Talks, walks and works

Running priest Robert Reyes said the Marawi crisis—which is now nearing its second month—cannot be solved by military power alone.

“We cannot kill the enemy because they propagate,” Reyes said in Iligan City, near Marawi, where the peace group Ka-Salam was launched by Oxfam and other groups

“While members of the Maute and the Abu Sayyaf are dying, their relatives are also angered. So even if the military says there’s no more Maute or Abu in Marawi, their relatives are still everywhere,” Reyes said.

Fearing a cycle of violence, Reyes is promoting “talks, walks and works” to promote peace in Mindanao.

He said under talks, Christians, Muslims and tribesmen, called lumad (indigenous people), should talk about problems and find a common solution before they become more serious.

Under walk, people should promote openness, dialogue and peace to defeat the deep distrust among people.

For example, those in Manila are wary of those wearing the thobe favored by Muslim men and the hijab used by Muslim women.

“They say Muslims are bad but they don’t really understand. Muslims are peaceful. Islam itself means peace,” he added.

Reyes said some Muslims also do not trust Christians while some tribesmen are also suspicious of them.

“There is now this culture of suspicion, which we can address by speaking to each other, conducting dialogues among ourselves,” he said.

Alim Saad Amate, president of the United Imams of the Philippines, said Muslims too would like to continue talking with Christians and lumad so that problems can be properly addressed.

Amate said many Muslims do not support violence because they would rather attend to their businesses. “Besides, war devastates everything,” he said. 

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