The announcement of AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Año that by today, as we celebrate our country’s 119th anniversary of independence, the Philippine flag will be flying in Marawi City, is indeed morale boosting.
At the same time, it tells us of the challenges in keeping our country safe while maintaining a vibrant democracy. That a part of our country is not in the control of government shows how serious the challenges are.
“The chief of staff made an announcement hoping that by Monday, we can freely wave our flags in every corner of Marawi and we are working feverishly to do that, to ensure we are able to do to a big extent what was announced by the chief of staff,” Armed Forces spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said in a Malacañang briefing last Friday.
Next day, we got the devastating report that 13 Marines were killed in action and 40 other soldiers were wounded in a 14-hour ferocious battle with Islamic militants to liberate the city.
Col. Edgard Arevalo, military spokesperson, said in Manila that 40 other soldiers were wounded in a “raging close quarter combat.”
The death of the 13 Marines brought to 58 the number of government troops killed in the Marawi conflict which started last May 22 when government forces raided a place where Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, who has a $5 million prize on his head over offered by the U.S. government over and above the multi-million peso prize set by the Philippine government, was staying.
The fierce fighting that ensued led to the declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao by President Duterte on May 23.
Documents, video and other materials obtained by the military showed Abu Sayyaf and the Maute group joining forces to take control of Marawi. They also gave the public an idea of the extent of the implementation of that plan which explains the intensity of the fighting.
The fighting, which is going into its third week, also indicates strong connection with the dreaded ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) which the local Islamists have been wanting to be part of.
Carol Arguillas of Mindanews said 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, including Fr. Teresito “Chito” Soganub, the Vicar-General of the Prelature of Marawi, are still awaiting rescue as air strikes continued to pound on areas believed held by the Maute Group.
Arguillas’ reports on the ground in Marawi are heart-rending.
Her report Sunday , “Preparing for the worst in Marawi: From rescue to retrieval” said: “As bombs dropped from the skies on areas held by the Maute Group Friday, the Provincial Crisis Management Committee (PCMC) spent the day meeting with agencies to prepare for the retrieval of the dead in the conflict zone once the military declares these areas cleared.”
On Saturday, Day 18 of the conflict, she reported an interview with lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo, PCMC Coordinator and member of the Secretariat, who said rescue operations to save lives remains the priority.
Sinarimbo added, “we are also conscious of the fact that the fighting has dragged on for a long time and as the day passes by, we have to contend with the reality that the chances of survival, especially of those who have been injured, decreases.”
More from Arguillas’ report:
“Rescuers from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the government-GPH Peace Corridor on June 4 saw a number of cadavers on the roadside but could not collect them as the priority was to get trapped civilians out. Rescued civilians as well narrated having seen decomposing bodies along the way.
“Ariel Amerol, manager of the Bangsamoro Development Agency and one of the volunteer rescuers on June 2, said they saw one body of a civilian along Gomisa Avenue on the way to Banggolo District but they were informed there were more bodies in the interiors.
“The retrieval protocols will consider religious and cultural practices," Sinarimbo said, adding “we will first consult with our Ulama here given the requirements of SOCO for identification and the impossibility of doing identification by secondary means” and the tradition observed by Muslims to bury the dead within 24 hours.
“Marawi is predominantly Muslim.”
What a way to mark Independence Day.
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