'White Helmet' team a ray of hope for trapped Marawi residents


Posted at May 30 2017 09:28 AM

MANILA - As fighting between bandit groups and state troops in Marawi City raged Tuesday, a group of local officials, protected only by white helmets, continued risking life and limb to rescue fellow civilians trapped in their homes.

Most of the city's 200,000 residents have fled since militants torched several buildings and battled state forces, but 2,000 remain trapped in areas controlled by the militants, according to Zia Alonto Adiong, spokesman for the provincial crisis management committee.

Amid a deluge of calls and text messages from residents pleading for rescue, the Marawi and Lanao del Sur governments formed a so-called "white helmet" team that has been entering conflict areas to extract non-combatants.

Rescue operations however were hampered by snipers of the Maute group and the continuous military airstrikes against the extremists.

The provincial crisis management committee has asked security forces to temporarily suspend airstrikes. They are also set to hold another rescue mission on Tuesday once they get clearance from security forces.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development meanwhile is scheduled to deliver relief supplies to evacuation centers.

The violence began last Tuesday when dozens of gunmen went on a rampage throughout Marawi in response to an attempt by security forces to arrest bandit leader Isnilon Hapilon.

The fighting, which has killed at least 100, has prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to place the entire Mindanao island under martial law.

The Philippine military said on Monday it was close to retaking Marawi. -- With Agence France-Presse; Edwin Sevidal and Ron Gagalac, ABS-CBN News