MANILA- The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Thursday said normalization operations have begun in Marawi and nearby cities even as clashes between government forces and local extremists continued.
Philippine Army 1st Infantry Division spokesperson Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera said the military has already tapped local government units to propose mechanisms on how to help the conflict-stricken city return to normal.
"We have already started our normalization operations. We continuously engage our local government units and other organizations to come up [with] a mechanism and plans to undertake the normalization operations,” he said.
Citing military records, Herrera placed the number of internally displaced persons at around 400 families. He said 23,237 people are currently staying at Iligan City.
National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) Executive Director Ricardo Jalad meanwhile said in a press conference in Malacañang that some 324,406 residents have fled the conflict zone.
Herrera said there were still enough supplies for people in Marawi, but he called for donations as well, saying a relief operations center has been set up in Iligan City.
“All help are welcome, pero kailangan po naming mailagay sa strategic places so we will be able to help and facilitate these relief operations as soon as possible,” he said.
Around 300 to 500 civilians are still trapped in war-shaken Marawi, Herrera said, noting that the military continued to communicate with these civilians for rescue operations.
Reports indicate that some civilians trapped in the conflict zone had resorted to eating cardboard for lack of food.
“We are still receiving distress calls on the ground and we are still communicating with them. I think the challenge now is how the cellphones will survive, the battery of the cellphones, their smartphones,” he said.
“We are trying our best to identify their location so we could
protect them from friendly fire,” he added.
Herrera said the military has already neutralized key positions of Maute and Abu Sayyaf terrorists in the city and assured the public that troops were doing their best to finish the crisis “as soon as possible.”
Clashes between government troops and Islamic State-linked terror groups have been going on since May 23, leaving at least 286 dead, including 202 terror suspects, 58 government troops, and 26 civilians.