'Safety of civilians still our priority'
MANILA - The military said Monday it is exploring all means to end the conflict in Marawi City, which started last May 23, in the next 3 days, as President Rodrigo Duterte instructed.
Despite the short time frame, Colonel Edgard Arevalo, spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), assured the safety of civilians as this remains their most important concern.
"Alam natin 'yung time frame na ibinigay niya, 3 days, so lahat ng efforts ginagawa natin. When we talk about safety of civilians as a priority, ginagawa natin ang iba't ibang means," Arevalo told DZMM.
(We know the time frame the President gave us, 3 days, so we are exerting all the efforts. When we talk about safety of civilians as a priority, we are talking about exploring different means.)
The death toll of the war in Marawi City has already reached 178. This includes 120 fatalities on the side of the terrorists, 36 government troops and 20 civilians, who were reportedly hit by sniper fire while on their way to safety.
The immediate objective, said Arevalo, is to bring to safety all the civilians trapped in the areas of intense fighting in Marawi through different ways, like the establishment of a peace corridor.
The military also declared a "humanitarian pause" yesterday so they can enter previously impenetrable areas where trapped civilians are. Because of the 4-hour ceasefire, rescuers were able to bring to safety at least 134 civilians.
This brings the total number of civilians rescued from Marawi's conflict areas to 1,450, according to Arevalo.
While the temporary ceasefire was helpful, Arevalo lamented reports that terrorists are separating Muslims and Christians who are fleeing the conflict areas.
"Ang nakalulungkot po na report na nakuha natin buhat sa ground ay pinaghiwalay po nila ang Kristiyano at Muslim. Hinarang po nila 'yung mga Kristiyano at ang pinakawalan nila 'yung mga Muslim," he said.
(It's sad that we are getting reports from the ground that the terrorists are separating fleeing Christians and Muslim. They are letting the Muslims go but not the Christians.)
Arevalo said AFP Chief of Staff Eduardo Año is open to the possibility of declaring another humanitarian pause in Marawi so the military can rescue more civilians.