Moro groups call for humanitarian corridor to get Marawi residents out of harm’s way

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DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 26 May) — A multisectoral group in Lanao del Sur is asking President Rodrigo Duterte to declare a “half day of no fighting” for a humanitarian corridor that would allow the safe passage of civilians out of the battlegrounds in the country’s lone Islamic City.

The multisectoral Ranaw Rescue Team on the eve of Ramadan called on the President to “open half day of no fighting for access to recover civilians residing in battle areas.”  The month-long fasting begins Saturday.

Evacuees, including patients who left the Amai Pakpak Medical Center, seek shelter inside a gymnasium beside the Army’s Campo Ranao in Marawi City Thursday (25 May 2017) as firefight between soldiers and the Maute Group rages downtown, two days after the start of skirmishes. MindaNews photo by FROILAN GALLARDO

Commissioner Samira Gutoc of the Bangsamro Transition Commission, a member of the multisectoral group posted on her Facebook account that stakeholders convened in Iligan City and agreed on nine points:

  • access to the first and second districts of Lanao de Sur;
  • primacy of civilian welfare be upheld by removing them from danger;
  • Ramadan preparations on Saturday night “impel access to water, food and shelter” and that many have gone hungry since the fighting started Tuesday afternoon;
  • identify rescue based on “various calls, shout outs by residents who need transport;”
  • recognize the work of government authorities such as the Crisis Management Committee;
  • assist civilians in coordinating with officials from the Cabinet, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and military officials.
  • call on President Duterte to “open half day of no fighting for access to recover civilians residing in battle areas;”
  • allow humanitarian teams to rescue said civilians;
  • that volunteers and their vehicles bee authorized entry and exit and that this information be disseminated to the ground commanders.

The group said they have facilitated with local government units and the private sector for transportation and that transport is “readily available if military permits are given.”

The group also called on volunteers to “assist the elderly, sickly, pregnant, children and the needy.”

On Thursday, Gutoc, a resident of Marawi City, posted on Facebook an appeal to President Duterte from a woman leader named Sohra and youth leader Lang Sharief, “na wag gumamit ng airstrike or malakas na paputok kasi masisira ang buong Marawi” (not to use airstrike or powerful epxlosives because Marawi will be destroyed).

An update of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao’s Humanitarian and Emergency Action Resonse Team (ARMM-HEART) as of 7  p.m. May 25 citied reports from the social welfare offices of Marawi and Iligan on the following evacuation centers: Provincial Capitol in Marawi with estimated 1,000 persons; Mindanao State University campus with estimated 1,000 students; the vicinity of Marawi City Hall with 325 employees and others; poblacion gym of Saguiaran with 811 families; Baloi Sumampong Gym with 300 families; Buruun School of Fisheries in Iligan City with seven families; and MSU-IIT Iligan with almost 300 students from MSU Marawi.

Gutoc said the Ranaw Rescue Team estimated some 500 residents are still to be evacuated from Barangay Lilod.  Other residents are to be evacuated  from at least five more  barangays.

Thousands have fled the city, some on foot, since the clashes on Tuesday.

Marawi City has a population of 201,000 residents.

“Let not the civilians be the collateral damage”

A consortium of  Bangsamoro civil society groups, meanwhile, called on warring forces in Marawi City to ensure the safety of civilians.

“Let not the civilians be the collateral damage,” the Cotabato City-based Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society (CBCS) said in a statement dated May 25.

It cited a verse from the Koran that says “killing an innocent and peace-loving civilian is like killing the whole humanity, while saving the life of an innocent and peace-loving individual is like saving the entire humanity.”

The CBCS said civilians are bearing the brunt of the ongoing clashes between government forces and the Maute Group. In both terror attacks and counter-terror response, “civilians and non-combatants are the sure victims.”

It said President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of martial law which took effect at 10 p.m. on May 23, is a form of counter-terrorism and “the threat of heavy militarization from government on one hand and the counter military actions from the enemies of the state on the other hand”  are among the reasons behind the exodus of Meranaws from Marawi City to the cities of Iligan, Cagayan de Oro and other areas.

“It is the excessive use of force and some features of Martial law that even peace-loving individuals are afraid of,” CBCS said, adding that the horrors experienced by the Moro populace during Martial Law under then President Ferdinand Marcos have remained vivid.

The CBCS said the statements of President Duterte that martial law in Mindanao “would not be any different from what the President Marcos did” and that he would be harsh “make people think that things can get worst.”

Ramadan

The statement also noted that in the Zamboanga Siege of 2013, “the damage was big, the forces of enemies of the state were in big number and the fear was great” but martial law was not declared.

“We were confident that military will be able to neutralize the enemies sooner in Marawi City,” he added.

The group also said they condemn any action, especially terror attacks and counter-terror attacks that create havoc and send “to scamper for safety, leaving their livelihood, the education of their children and their  miserable existence in evacuation sites under the mercy of relief goods.”

It appealed to the warring forces to “give the highest respect to the lives of civilians and the non-combatants.”

The CBCS appealed to the group fighting government in Marawi, to “distance themselves from the communities in order to ensure the safety of the civilians and to spare the non-combatants and peace-loving individuals.”

It expressed hope government would for “immediately solve the violence in the Marawi complex in order to send back the civilians home, especially that it is already the holy month of Ramadhan.”

The group expressed fears that violence can spill over to the adjacent areas and “may drag in other non-state actors, can adversely affect the ongoing peace processes between the government and the mainstreamed Moro fronts.”

“Very temporary relief”

The CBCS also pointed out that counter-terrorism “the military way” can only have a “very temporary relief effect,” citing experiences of other countries and even the Philippines.

“The ‘hard’ approach did not prevent extremism or terrorism to recur. The long-term solution is to dig into the structural, emotional and psychological causes of violence and extremism. Frustration, hopelessness and poverty are among the incubators of violence and to some degrees, extremist reactions,” it said, adding that the sources of conflict must be rooted out.

“The Bangsamoro, when given the space and adequate authorities, can help push development and stamp out the sources of violence and extremism,” it said.

The Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy (PCID), like the CBCS, also condemned the terrorist attack in Marawi, which it said was “made more heinous as it occurred as the Muslim faithful are preparing for the holy month of Ramadhan.”

It urged government to ensure that the declaration of martial law “will not, in any way, compromise the lives of our people and the principles of democracy that we hold dear.”

It said the peaceful resolution of the armed conflict Marawi “is needed, through tempered and calibrated responses that will prevent further casualties and damage to property and livelihoods.”

The PCID also said what is needed is to prevent violent extremism “so we are urging all sectors to immediately address the worsening issue at its roots” and for local government officials, particularly the elected, to be held accountable for good governance and rule of law so they can be effective in improving the socio-economic and political conditions of the Moro people.

Maguindanao Rep. Bai Sandra Sema, Deputy Speaker for Mindanao, condemned the extremist groups for “sowing terror and fear among our people.”

“It is not Islamic and they don’t represent Islam,” she said.

“Please understand and support us in achieving peace so we can collectively act against this terror group. More than ever, Peace is the way. Our people cna’t continue living like this. Peace is our only option. War is unacceptable,” Sema said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

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