MANILA – Government is considering building tent cities for displaced civilians in conflict-torn Marawi City and surrounding areas in case the number of evacuees swells and the ongoing siege is further prolonged.
National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) Executive Director Ricardo Jalad on Thursday said a team has been deployed to Marawi City to check if there was a significant increase in internally displaced persons (IDPs) needing shelters.
“If the number of IDPs will really swell, [we are looking] at setting up tent cities,” Jalad told reporters in Malacañang.
Jalad said the Marawi siege, which is now on its fourth week, has displaced 66,738 families composed of 324,406 individuals from Marawi City and nearby Marantao, Lanao del Sur.
Of those displaced, only five percent are staying in 79 evacuation centers in Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur and Cagayan de Oro City. The rest were taken in by their friends and relatives, the official said.
Some P84 million worth of assistance has meanwhile been provided by the government, Jalad added.
At least 58 government troops and 26 civilians have been killed since the clashes erupted on May 23, but this number could rise as hundreds of residents remain trapped in the battle zone, running out of food supply and at risk of being caught and executed by the militants.
Local officials and aid workers believe dozens more have likely died, with their corpses rotting in the militant-held areas, and that conditions were growing increasingly dire as food runs out.
"Some residents are eating (cardboard) boxes. They just dip it in water to soften the material and eat it," provincial crisis management committee spokesman Zia Alonto Adiong told AFP, recounting testimonies from people who escaped.
"It's heartbreaking. It's almost unbelievable to think that people are living this way."
The military has also reported that the militants were using some civilians as slaves, making them cook and carry munitions.
The city, one of the cultural and economic centers in mainland Mindanao, has also suffered massive devastation, and the government is planning to release P10 billion for its rehabilitation.
Jalad said damage assessment and rehabilitation efforts would immediately begin once Marawi is cleared of militants.
President Rodrigo Duterte placed the entire Mindanao under martial law after local terrorist group Maute, backed by other local and foreign Islamist extremists, laid siege to the bustling city.
Clashes erupted as government troops were attempting to arrest Abu Sayyaf senior leader Isnilon Hapilon. The military said the arrest preempted a bigger attack that the extremists had planned to carry out at the start of the holy month of Ramadan. -- with reports from Agence France Presse