MANILA – China has donated P15 million to support relief operations and rehabilitation efforts in the besieged southern city of Marawi, Malacañang said Tuesday.
The Palace said Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua handed the check to President Rodrigo Duterte Tuesday.
The aid came just as Duterte announced his intent to help Marawi bounce back, as more than a month of firefights between government troops and terrorists have left parts of the city in ruins.
It said the amount will augment resources of the health and social welfare departments, which are leading efforts to address the needs of those displaced by clashes in the city.
“The said donation from China to the Philippines is an example of the flourishing partnership between the two countries and their shared commitment towards sustainable peace in the region,” the Palace communication’s office said in a statement.
Strained during the administration of Duterte’s predecessor Benigno Aquino III, relations between the Philippines and China has seen a turnaround under the current leadership.
This as the firebrand leader has chosen not to press on the Philippines’ claims to the South China Sea, resource-rich waters being claimed almost entirely by China, in exchange for warmer ties with the Asian giant.
Duterte has sought stronger economic ties with China, even as Beijing continued to ignore Manila's arbitration victory that invalidated its nine-dash line claim and instead ramped up militarization and island-building activities.
The president has also revamped Manila’s foreign policy as he sought to loosen its dependence on Washington, which has earned his ire due to criticism of his war on drugs during his early days in power.
Despite Duterte’s foreign policy pivot, the United States is providing technical assistance to the PHilippine military in battling Islamic State linked militants.
This seemed to show that Manila remained dependent on its closest defense ally for anti-terrorism expertise. Duterte said he did not ask for the US assistance but was nonetheless thankful for the aid.
Australia has meanwhile lent patrol aircraft and sent P34.5 million in food and other aid to families displaced by the conflict.
The siege in Marawi has been going on for over a month, after the Maute group, led by brothers Omar and Abdullah, captured parts of the city in an alleged bid to establish an ISIS province in Mindanao. Over 300, mostly suspected terrorists, have perished.
The clashes erupted after government troops attempted to arrest Abu Sayyaf senior leader Isnilon Hapilon in the city on May 23. Hapilon evaded arrest and has reportedly left the city and deserted his men after weeks of fierce clashes.
The emergence of groups pledging allegiance to the ISIS has been considered as the biggest security problem to face the year-old Duterte administration.
The rise of pro-ISIS groups in the country has raised alarm in Washington and the Philippines’ neighbors in the region, which fear that the notorious terror group was seeking to establish a new front in Asia amid its successive losses in Iraq and Syria.
While the military has expressed confidence that the crisis will be over soon, security experts worry that the Marawi attack was just part of a bigger plan of ISIS in Southeast Asia.