500 to 1,000 civilians remain trapped in Marawi conflict zone

MARAWI CITY (MindaNews / 10 June) —  A total of 1,626 civilians trapped in the conflict zone have been rescued as of June 9 but some 500 to 1,000 trapped civilians and around a hundred hostages are still awaiting rescue as air strikes continued to pound on areas believed held by the Maute Group.

Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, chief of the Western Mindanao Command told MindaNews Friday night that a total of 1,626 trapped civilians had been rescued since clashes with the Maute Group started on May 23.

His estimate of trapped civilians — “300 to 500” — is lower than the number given by the spokespersons of the Provincial Crisis Management Committee (PCMC) and the 1st Infantry Division.

RRescuers 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 negotiated between the government and the Maute Group by an emissary. Several attempts have been made since June 4 to go for another humanitarian pause to get the trapped civilians out. Photo courtesy of BANGSAMORO NEWS

The still huge number of trapped residents and hostages continues to worry relatives and humanitarian groups that they would end up as “collateral damage.”

The Ranao Rescue Team, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines-Lanao del Sur chapter, and several other groups, have repeatedly called on President Duterte to stop the aerial strikes and get the trapped civilians out, a number of whom, particularly the injured, are too weak to move due to lack of food and water for nearly three weeks.

The Commission on Human Rights in a statement Saturday said that while it supports the government’s efforts “to impose peace and order” in Marawi, “the military must take every precaution to avoid harming civilians and civilian objects.”

It said the aerial strikes “have not only caused the destruction of buildings and civilian property, but, worse, have resulted in the killing of innocent civilians, including children, and even our own troops,” it said.

“The Commission believes that, in times of conflict and violence, the State must always ensure to limit the effects of armed conflict, especially for the vulnerable and marginalized sectors,” it added.

Die of hunger or take the chance

“Some of the (trapped) residents are already desperate … either they die of hunger or take the chance” to escape, Assemblyman Zia Alonto Adiong said at the press briefing Friday at the Operations Center of the PCMC.

Rescued civilians had earlier spoken on how they survived the ordeal, a number of them praying it would rain so they could drink water.

Since Friday evening a text blast coming from the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) urged trapped civilians who want to move towards the the military encampments to wave a white cloth to indicate they are not enemies.

It also sent a text blast addressed to “rebelde” (rebels) who want to surrender to also wave a white cloth with their firearms on their side and a specific address to “Maute/ASG (Abu Sayyaf) to raise their hands and guns without magazines, and wave a white cloth.

500 to 1,000 trapped

Adiong and Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera, spokesperson of the 1st Infantry Division, pegged the number of trapped civilians at 500 to 1,000 during the press conference Friday afternoon, Day 18.

Samira Gutoc of the Ranao Rescue Team said they estimate 1,500 civilians are still trapped in the conflict zone.

Galvez said the number of trapped civilians is “more or less 300 to 500” and that  they are now receiving only a few “persistent calls for rescue.”

Aside from lack of food and water and the risk of getting caught in a crossfire or by bombs, trapped residents are also facing communications problems as there is no power supply in most parts of the city.

Consolidated reports of the Provincial Crisis Management Committee (PCMC) and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao’s Humanitarian and Emergency Action Response Team (ARMM-HEART) show the total number of trapped civilians rescued from May 28 to June 8 is 854.

The PCMC and ARMM HEART data has names of the rescued, age, gender and addresses: 54 were rescued on May 28, 121 on May 29, 46 on May 30, 148 on May 31, 28 on June 1, 26 on June 2, 197 on June 3, 65 on June 4, 103 on June 5, eight on June 6, 18 on June 7 and 40 on June 8.

June 12 deadline

On Thursday, when President Duterte’s trip to Marawi was cancelled allegedly due to “foul weather,” Galvez said they were “looking at the possibility that the end will be near.”

Brig. Gen. Rolando Joselito Bautista, chief of the Army’s 1st Infantry Division, under who has direct supervision over the 103rd Brigade here, said their timetable is “within four days we will gain headway” or by  June 12 which happens to be Philippine Independence Day.

This is the third deadline set by the government.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had earlier said the Marawi Crisis would be over by Friday, June 2. On June 3, President Duterte told reporters in Cagayan de Oro after visiting wounded soldiers at the hospital ni Camp Evangelista that “this will be over in about three more days” or by June 6. On June 8, Bautista said they will “gain headway” by June 12.

Bautista said that based on their assessment as of morning of June 8, there are still “more or less 230 local terrorists in the area” and about 100 hostages, including Fr. Teresito “Chito” Soganub, Vicar-General of the Prelature of Marawi, acting rector of St. Mary’s parish and chaplain of the Mindanao State University main campus.

Attempts to launch yet another rescue of trapped civilians through the Government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s (GPH-MILF) Peace Corridor failed as of Friday morning but Assistant Secretary Dickson Hermoso of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, said they are still hoping they can have a “humanitarian pause” before June 12.

There is no indication, however, that the corridor will re-open before then as fighting has intensified.

On Sunday, June 4, a four-hour ceasefire between the military and the Maute Group, brokered by an emissary, led to the rescue of 134 residents in the Banggolo area. Hermoso on Thursday told MindaNews a total of 179 were rescued, as the remaining 45 other residents near the rescue area were emboldened to get out.

In the early days of the clashes, a “suicide squad” of 30 local volunteers took risks in rescuing trapped civilians.

As of 6 p.m. on June 9, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) reported a total of 252,638 (52,460 families) have been displaced by the armed conflict in Marawi.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)