‘Bin Laden’ recognized for efforts in saving civilians during Marawi siege

MARAWI CITY (MindaNews / 7 Sept) ­– Finally, the government has recognized Aga Khan Sharief for his role in saving hundreds of trapped civilians during the siege of Marawi City.

A military officer inspects a van carrying Sharief Sharief who was going inside the embattled city of Marawi in this file photo taken on 25 June 2017 to negotiate for a ceasefire from the Daesh-inspired Maute gunmen and rescue the trapped civilians. MindaNews file photo by FROILAN GALLARDO

Sharief is more popularly known in Marawi and Lanao del Sur as “Bin Laden” because of his resemblance to Osama. The moniker stuck, which he even used as his alias in his electoral campaigns.

Spurned by President Duterte for negotiating with the Daesh-inspired Maute group, the exploits of Sharief was never made public until last Thursday.

“For his role in negotiating the release of hundreds of trapped civilians in Marawi City,” the plaque given to Sharief said.

President Duterte denounced Sharief last year when he negotiated with the leaders of Daesh-inspired gunmen who laid siege to Marawi City.

During the siege, Sharief made several trips inside the main battle area to meet with the rebel leaders to persuade them for a short and temporary ceasefire.

The late Maute brothers and Isnilon Hapilon granted the ceasefires and allowed a joint government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front team to go inside the embattled city to rescue trapped civilians.

A family member points the location of her trapped relative to members of the Joint Coordinating, Monitoring and Assistance Center (JCMAC) in this file photo taken in Marawi City on 25 June 2017. A total of 255 trapped civilians were rescued by the volunteers. MindaNews file photo by FROILAN GALLARDO

“Sometimes I rode in a small motorcycle to meet Abdullah and Omar Maute. Luckily I was not shot by the military and the rebels,” Sharief narrated.

Col. Dickson Hermoso (retired), assistant secretary of the Office of the President on the Peace Process, narrated that as soon as the ceasefire took effect the team made it way inside the beleaguered city calling out for the trapped civilians to come out.

Hermoso said most volunteers went without any bulletproof vest to protect themselves, trusting that both Army soldiers and Maute gunmen would honor the ceasefire.

He said the volunteers found the trapped civilians who maintained phone connections and directions from relatives who reported where they were hiding.

“Once the agreed ceasefire ended, the fighting erupted again. Our teams barely got out of the conflict area,” Hermoso said.

He said the team rescued a total of 255 civilians and the “peace corridor” allowed the entry of trucks delivering foodstuff to other towns in Lanao del Sur.

Sharief and all the volunteers of the Joint Coordinating, Monitoring and Assistance Center were given honors during a ceremony attended by the government and MILF peace panels at the Mindanao State University in Marawi City Thursday.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza directed that the JMAC continue its operations, citing “it was a good testament of effective partnership” between the government and MILF.

MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said the new role of the group will be to help the healing process of the Marawi residents. (Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)