ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews / 24 May) – The number of persons who have remained missing in Marawi City seven months since the end of the siege staged by Islamic State-inspired militants could be as low as 11 or as high as 100 or more, figures released by government and nongovernment said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said there are at least 100 missing persons.
“But we believe there are more,” Camilla Malteuci, head of the ICRC Protection Team in the Philippines said.
Duyog Marawi, an NGO that coordinates the rehabilitation efforts of the Catholic Church, placed the number of missing persons at 70.
Duyog Marawi head Rey Barnido said their estimate is lower because they concentrated their efforts on the Christian minority in Marawi city.
“If we find a witness who will say he or she saw that missing person was gunned down we immediately change the status to dead and remove him from the missing list,” Barnido explained.
Christians comprise about five percent of Marawi’s 200,000 population. Many of them worked there as laborers, carpenters and store helpers. Most found themselves trapped when the militants took over the city on May 23 last year.
Task Force Ranao Rescue Team, an NGO, placed the number of missing Muslims at around 80.
Samira Gutoc Tomawis, a local Marawi leader said they are finding it difficult to locate the missing because family members refused to have their DNA taken by the police.
The Lanao del Sur Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO) gave a much lower figure – 11 missing persons.
Zia Alonto Adiong, former head of the defunct Marawi Crisis Committee said DNA samples taken from the first 150 unidentified cadavers buried at the Maqbara cemetery in Barangay Papandayan, did not match the DNA of those who have missing family members or relatives.
Adiong said the skeletal remains of the cadavers also did not match any of the dental records provided by relatives.
“It would be difficult to find the missing a year after. We have been telling the relatives to presume that their loved ones are already dead,” he said.
One of the Meranaw families who have missing members is that of Hashima Mohammed Salim.
Salim said she and relatives who also lost family members met in a small apartment here to decide what to do, as they only had a small amount of money left and food assistance from government aid agencies was getting scarcer every week.
She said her family decided to migrate to Manila to find jobs and businesses while she stays in Iligan to continue locating their missing relatives.
“It is very sad to come up with a decision that will break up my family and for me to stay,” she said.
Salim, 29, said her family decided to let her stay because she was the most outspoken and educated among them.
She said fearing martial law, many in her family are scared to meet government officials or face reporters with their cameras.
“They tasked me to be the one to talk to you,” she said.
Upon instructions from her family, Salim did not divulge the identities of her relatives who have gone missing after the militants attacked Marawi.
Adiong said the PDRRMO has stopped its search for the missing and turned over its records to the Department of Interior and Local Government’s Management of the Dead and the Missing department.
“It will be up to the DILG to reactivate the search. We will only help and support them,” he said. (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)