AFP spokesman says 'leftists' report maliciously motivated'
MANILA - Fear of getting raped by soldiers forced a number of Marawi women to seek refuge in evacuation centers, where conditions continue to mirror the "grave humanitarian crisis" in Mindanao, a report prepared by left-leaning groups claims.
President Rodrigo Duterte's joke that he would take up the cudgels for soldiers who might commit rape under martial law "caused widespread fear among women in Marawi," Iglesia Filipina Independiente priest Chris Ablon said in a press conference Thursday.
Malacañang earlier described Duterte's statement as "heightened bravado."
But in Marawi, where security forces continued to battle Islamic State-linked terrorists, some soldiers "openly made remarks to women that they will rape them or marry the pretty ones," said Ablon, who was part of a three-day humanitarian mission that looked at the worsening situation in Mindanao.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) readily questioned the report, saying its soldiers were focused on liberating Marawi City while casting doubt on the motives of the Left's accusations.
"Aren't these leftist organizations and whose motivations may be questionable? Our soldiers are busy fighting and quite a big number have been wounded and many killed. Do you think our soldiers would still have reason to do this when their focus is in liberating Marawi?" said AFP spokesperson Brigadier Gen. Restituto Padilla.
"The AFP has been at the forefront of the fighting and our primary interest is to get this done at the soonest time possible and return Marawi back to normal," he added.
He challenged the group to provide evidence to support its allegations.
"In any case, it would do well if they substantiate their claims with hard facts rather than just accusations, which could be maliciously motivated. We stand ready to discipline our men if these are proven," Padilla said.
Members of the mission interviewed 22-year-old Sumaya, who initially opted to stay at a relative's house near a military camp instead of settling at an evacuation center.
"Army personnel told them to remain in their present location kasi sabi ng army, safe kayo rito. Sabi din po ng army, 'At saka maging good girls lang kayo. Kasi 'pag good kayo, good kami. Pero pag bad kayo, re-rapin namin kayo,'" Ablon said.
"Out of fear, these women transferred to the evacuation center very early the next day," he added.
Assuming the soldiers' alleged remarks were said in jest, Ablon said it would have been "a very inappropriate joke."
The report said one mother asked her three daughters to evacuate right away after Duterte made the rape joke.
"Laging sumasagi ito sa kanilang isipan, kaya pinauna nilang paalisin o palikasin ang kanilang mga anak na dalaga sa labas ng Marawi kahit ayaw nilang mag-evacuate," said Gabriela party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas.
The Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives on Wednesday filed a resolution seeking an investigation into Duterte's martial law declaration in Mindanao, and the plight of evacuees from Marawi City.
"Dapat may managot dito," Bayan Muna partylist Rep. Carlos Zarate said. "'Di pwedeng sorry na lang."
Ustadz Alimodas Laut, an evacuee from Marawi City, appealed to the president to stop aerial bombings by the military to avoid more civilian casualties.
Citing interviews by the mission, Ablon said most evacuees left their homes when the government began pounding the city with aerial bombardments.
He said many residents had been willing to weather the conflict by taking cover in foxholes under their houses.
Clashes between government troops and the terrorist Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups in Marawi City began a month ago, leaving at least 360 dead.
Among these are 268 terror suspects, 66 government troops and 26 civilians said to have died of enemy fire.