Murad: MILF asked former MILF members in Maute Group to leave Marawi

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DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 11 June) —  In the early days of the Marawi Siege in May last year, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) appealed to former members of the MILF who were in the leadership of the Maute Group to withdraw their forces and leave Marawi “para hindi na lalaki yung problema sa Marawi” (so the probem in Marawi won’t worsen), MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim said.

Murad told MindaNews during a sit-down interview at the MILF’s Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao on June 7 that they sent emissaries to convey the message to the former MILF members — the brothers Omar and Abdullah (their father Cayamora was the first MILF member from the family) but “sabi nila (they said)  ‘we are just defending ourselves.’ Yun ang sinasabi nila” (that’s what they were saying).

Rescuers from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front team in the Government-MILF Peace Corridor aid an elderly male out of the conflict zone on June 4, 2017 in Marawi City during a four-hour humanitarian ceasefire. Photo courtesy of BANGSAMORO NEWS

According to the military’s account, at around 2 p.m. on May 23, 2017, law enforcers attempted to serve a warrant of arrest on Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, alleged Emir of the ISIS in Southeast Asia, in an apartment he was renting in the country’s lone Islamic City, but were repelled. Soonafter, the Maute Group and its allies, clad in black with some carrying black ISIS flags, took over strategic areas in the city. Eight hours later, President Rodrigo Duterte, then in Moscow on a state visit, placed all of Mindanao’s 27 provinces and 33 cities under martial law.

Duterte declared Marawi City “liberated from the terrorist influence” on October 17 and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana ordered the termination of all combat operations on October 23.

During the five-month siege, the MILF partnered with the Philippine government in the GPH-MILF Peace Corridor, assisting displaced persons who fled to neighboring towns in Lanao del Sur along the Cotabato-Marawi highway. It also assisted in securing a four-hour “humanitarian pause” that allowed passage for at least 134 trapped civilians on June 4, 2017 and negotiating the release of five hostages, including a two year old girl, on June 25 — Eid’l Fitr, the end of Ramadan. The Maute Group set a condition for the release of hostaged Catholic priest Teresito Soganub but government did not agree.

Despite these efforts, the MILF faced criticisms for its alleged failure to help Marawi residents at their most vulnerable, on the first days of the siege.

“Ang tingin ng iba, kailangan we will be directly involved on the ground during the battle. Parang gusto nila na ma-involve yung MILF directly. Unang-una kung titingnan ninyo kahit si Nur (MNLF founding chair Nur Misuari) noon nag-volunteer na he will send his forces pero nakita namin kay Presidente na hindi niya … I think the armed forces will not also agree to that… We do not believe na magiging solution yung mag-deploy kami ng pwersa doon kasi it would create a more  complex situation, baka magkaroon ng three-way battle,” Murad said.

He said they tried to reach out to former MILF members in the Maute Group to convince them to leave Marawi but the Maute said “hindi naman sila nag-attack, nag-operate ang government troops … lumaban sila” (they did not attack, the government troops operated and they fought back).

Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, talks about the Bangsamoro Basic Law and Marawi in a sit-down interview late Thursay afternoon, June 7, 2018, in the MILF’s Camp Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat in Maguindanao. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

Murad also admitted that MILF commanders based in Marawi lost a “substantial” number of firearms as they left them behind when they joined their families in evacuating to neighboring towns and cities.

Residents who fled the city left behind most of their valuables — cash, jewelry, firearms among others — thinking the conflict would end in a few days.

Murad said some of their commanders, especially during the ceasefire, were already staying in Marawi and “meron silang mga armas na itinatago nila doon, hindi nila dinidisplay (They had arms but hidden in their houses) … They just kept them in their houses.”

“Ang nangyari dito sa mga armas kasi … nagbakwit din sila, ang mga commander. so maaring nakuha, yung iba nakuha ng Maute, yung iba nakuha ng sundalo” (What happened was .. the commanders also evacuated, so the firearms were taken, some may have been taken by the Maute, others may have been taken by soldiers).

A displaced Marawi resident wanted to know how the future MILF-led Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) would deal with the Marawi rehabilitation.

The BTA, which will be set up once the Bangsamoro Basic Law is ratified, will be appointed by President Duterte to run the affairs of governance in the region until the election of the first set of officials of the Bangsamoro region.

“There is already the plan, national plan to rebuild Marawi so ang mangyari lang siguro nito is the BTA will support the national plan kasi nandiyan na yung plano Maybe we can try to propose some improvement or changes,” he said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

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