“Peace Corridor” to continue after rescue of 134 trapped civilians in Marawi

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 04 June) — At least 134 trapped civilians in Marawi City were rescued when a four-hour humanitarian corridor opened Sunday from 8 a.m. to 12 noon, six days after President Rodrigo Duterte approved the proposed  “Peace Corridor” during his meeting with officials of the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace implementing panels.

“Everyday we will change the time” for the “Peace Corridor” to allow for the safe passage of civilians, Irene Santiago, chair of the government’s Peace Implementing Panel in the peace process with the MILF, told a press conference in Marawi.

No, this is not Aleppo
This is Marawi City, Sunday morning, 04 June 2017. A member of the Joint Coordinating, Monitoring, and Assistance Center of the GPH-MILF Peace Corridor assists an elderly woman leave the conflict zone, one of 134 trapped civilians rescued Sunday morning during a four-hour “humanitarian pause.” Photo courtesy of BANGSAMORO NEWS

Secretary Jesus Dureza, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, said they will have to assess the implementation of the corridor to ensure the rescue teams going inside the conflict zone would not be endangered.

Sunday’s rescue was stopped after successfully moving to safety 134 trapped civilians as gunshots were heard.

Dureza said a humanitarian ceasefire is “an opportunity for us to save lives” but can also be “an opportunity for the enemy to take advantage.”

“But the Peace Corridor is there,” Dureza said, adding, “as to whether or not it will be safe to move out people through that Peace Corridor is something that will have to be decided one at a time.” 

In the same press conference, Maj. Gen. Carlito Galvez, Western Mindanao Command chief said saving the lives of civilians is their primordial concern, noting that even if they would be disadvantaged operationally during a humanitarian pause, “we still allow it,” and that having saved a total of 179 trapped civilians yesterday (134 through the corridor) boosts the morale of the troops.

He said “without hesitation,” he immediatley said yes when Santiago asked for a four-hour pause.

Press conference of the GPH-MILF Peace Corridor Monday , 05June 2017 in Marawi City with government peace implementing panel chair Irene Santiago, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza and WestMinCom chief Maj. Gen. Carlito Galvez. Photo courtesy of OPAPP.

“Yesterday was a good day,” Santiago said, but added they need to asses to address considerations of safety and efficiency.

An estimated 2,000 civilians remain trapped in conflict zones in Marawi City.

The four-hour window on Sunday was made possible through an emissary who managed to get the Maute Group to agree to a four-hour ceasefire.

But only Moro members of the Joint Coordinating, Monitoring, and Assistance Center (JCMAC) of the GPH-MILF peace panels, preferably Maranaw, were allowed to enter the conflict zone, in accordance with the Maute Group’s condition, relayed to the GPH-MILF panels through the emissary.

MindaNews sources said the emissary, a member of a prominent Maranaw clan, had, as early as Day One, tried to talk to the Maute Group to allow safe passage for civilians.

“It was a highly tense half-day until we got some trapped civilians out and our MILF rescue teams returned. No mishaps, thank God. The Peace Corridor enabled 134 people to come out safely,”  Santiago posted on Facebook.

Assistant Secretary Dickson Hermoso of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, a retired Army Colonel who used to head the GPH side of the Joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH)  told a press conference in Marawi Sunday that the emissary, who negotiated with the Maute Group solely for humanitarian considerations, was told by the Maute Group they would allow only Moro, preferably Maranaw, to the pick-up area they had agreed upon.

Members of the Joint Coordinating, Monitoring, and Assistance Center of the GPH-MILF Peace Corridor enter pick-up area for trapped civilians during a four-hour humanitarian pause to allow for safe passage of trapped civilians. Photo courtesy of BANGSAMORO NEWS

Santiago told reporters in Malacanang on June 2 that the “peace corridor” is a “safe and secure corridor for women, men, and children fleeing the crisis in Marawi, as well as a reliable space for humanitarian assistance to pass through” and is jointly implemented by the GPH-MILF peace panels.

“It is a testament to have far the Bangsamoro peace processes come and the partnership that has been established between the government and the MILF,” she said.

The “peace corridor,” she said, has two centers – one in Marawi and the other in Malabang, Lanao del Sur and a mobile center plying the corridor.

There will be two centers: one in Marawi and one in Malabang and a mobile center plying the corridor.

At least 300 trained members of the joint peace and security teams are being deployed throughout the length of the corridor and will be augmented as the need arises, Santiago said.

The “peace corridor” concept apparently evolved between Monday and Saturday, into getting into a conflict zone with the consent of the warring parties — government forces and the Maute Group.

MindaNews had asked Santiago on May 31 how the “peace corridor” would be implemented given that even if the government and MILF are for it, they would need the Maute Group to agree to that corridor. She sent no reply.

MindaNews asked the same question to MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim on the same day.  He replied that they would deploy a joint contingent “in the cleared area to receive civilians trapped inside.”

He said the “peace corridor” is to be established “only in areas already cleared by the military” and that it “will only serve as reception point for the civilians coming from the uncleared areas.”

The emissary paved the way for the possibility of a humanitarian corridor, even if only for four hours, approved by both the military and the Maute.

Asked by a reporter during the Marawi presscon on Monday until when the “Peace Corridor” will be, Santiago responded, “as long as it takes to rescue people.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)