MARAWI CITY (MindaNews / 12 June) — The spokesperson of the Provincial Crisis Management Committee (PCMC) on Monday said they are preparing for the worst in terms of destruction of property and loss of lives as the Marawi Crisis entered Day 21 and the aerial bombings, Day 19.
“I guess we need to ready ourselves for the worst once this (Banggolo) bridge is opened,” Assemblyman Zia Alonto Adiong, PCMC spokesperson told a press briefing Monday as he noted that photographs shared online have given the public glimpses of the destruction in the conflict zone located in the city’s center, and accounts of rescuers who were able to enter the “hostile area” on June 4 as well as survivors indicate there are many dead bodies lying on the ground, some of them in an advanced stage of decomposition.
Adiong narrated that during the flag-raising ceremony, a police officer narrated that one of his friends received a text message that a trapped family in Barangay Raya Madaya had sent word their child has died of hunger and that they and their Christian employees have been eating their blanket for survival.
He said their principal concern is still “to rescue as many civilians” and their volunteer rescuers are ready but they have to “wait for the Armed Forces of the Philippines to give us clearance.”
“Our hands are tied,” Adiong said, adding that having been trapped for 21 days and with the possibility of getting rescued becoming more difficult, trapped civilians are now taking their chances to move towards Banggolo bridge from wherever they are in the conflict zone and cross the estimated 40-meter bridge to the designated collection point manned by soldiers, or be caught in the crossfire, hit by bombs, or die of hunger.
The trapped civilians, he said, are taking the risk to escape or “die inside their house.”
“There is danger all around them, left or right, back, front,” he said, adding that it is “the human determination to live that drives them to face this danger and expect that they would cross the bridge” to safety.
He said the military has already penetrated the area “but not really completely.”
Air strikes continued on Monday, even during the flag-raising ceremonies.
Get trapped civilians out
Adiong told MindaNews that since the airstrikes started on May 25, there has not been a day of respite from aerial bombings. “Every day,” he said.
The ancestral home of the late Senator Ahmad Domocao Alonto, he said, was hit by an air strike earlier that morning.
In a statement Monday, the Saving Lives Movement, a Muslim-Christian network aiming to highlight the humanitarian aspect of the Marawi Crisis, and the Ranao Rescue Team appealed in an open letter to the Armed Forces of the Philippines for a four-hour pause “to get the trapped out of war zones in Marawi.”
On June 4, volunteer rescue teams from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) side of the Government-MILF Peace Corridor were allowed to enter the conflict zone by both the military and the Maute Group, brokered by an emissary, allowing for the rescue, initially of 134 trapped residents. At least 45 more managed to move closer to safety.
MindaNews sought Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez for his response to the appeal of Saving Lives Movement but he sent no reply.
Adiong and Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera on Friday estimated the number of trapped civilians at “500 to 1,000.” Saving Lives Movement’s estimate on June 12 is 2,000.
Aside from trapped civilians, an estimated there are still an estimated 100 hostages held by the Maute Group as of Thursday last week, according to Brig. Gen. Rolando Joselito Bautista.
Bautista on Thursday chief of the Army’s 1st Infantry Division, who has direct supervision over the 103rd Brigade here, said “within four days we will gain headway” or by June 12 which happens to be Philippine Independence Daoy.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Sunday confirmed the United States is providing technical assistance by coordinating communications link between the P3 Orion spy plane and the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ air and ground forces fighting the terrorist Maute Group.
“If we count bombs, we’re counting dead bodies”
“When you get used to the sound of bombs, you don’t know how many or how less. Basta you know it’s frequent,” Adiong told reporters, adding “we’re not counting the bombs because if we count the bombs, we’re counting dead bodies, also damaged property.”
Distress calls from trapped families are “not as frequent as the early days of the fighting,” Adiong said. He explained it could be because some of them have been rescued, or they could not charge their phones.
Or the worst has happened.
Adiong said they have a matrix of where the distress calls were coming from, which they would use “as basis to identify the bodies” in the event the callers did not survive.
He explained that they have already prepared the protocols “once the bridge is open for retrieval operations.”
He said there will be a mobile laboratory where experts will get tissue samplings that would later be matched with samples taken from relatives of those whose family members could not be accounted for.
Adiong added they have to consult the Ulama if it would be allowed under the Shariah for forensic experts to handle their dead given the religious and cultural traditions. “We have to be very, very sensitive as to culture and religion.”
Marawi is the country’s lone Islamic City.
He said they have identified a site for a possible mass grave but have to check with the Ulama first if mass burials are allowed under these circumstances.
He called on residents who have missing family members to provide the necessary information to the help desks they will be setting up in Marawi and Iligan cities.
Adiong said Marawi City and Lanao del Sur’s 39 towns held a simultaneous flag-raising on Monday, “not only in commemoration of the 119th Independence Day but as symbolic gesture of resistance of the people of Lanao del Sur against violent extremism and foreign ideology.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)