MANILA – The Armed Forces of the Philippines on Friday confirmed earlier reports that some children in the besieged city of Marawi were looking up to Islamic State-inspired terrorists, information that comes amid government efforts to quell extremism in the country.
AFP spokesperson Brigadier General Restituto Padilla Jr. said some Marawi children expressed their support for the radical group during their interaction with civil society organizations that have been helping in relief efforts.
“It was found out through their sessions that indeed yes, may mga ilan, hindi naman lahat, may iilan lang sa mga miyembro ng kabataan na ang kanilang ina-idolize at ang sinasabi nilang gusto nilang mangyari paglaki nila ay maging parte nung kinakalaban natin diyan,” Padilla said in a news conference in Malacañang.
“[Hindi] nila nauunawaan ‘yung mga nangyayari po sa kapaligiran nila. Kaya’t minarapat nitong mga organisasyon na ito na ipaliwanag itong mga pagkakataon na ‘to nang maliwanagan ang kaisipan, murang kaisipan ng mga kabataan na ‘to.”
Padilla made this confirmation after Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) chairman William Ramirez said in a Palace news conference Thursday that some Marawi children spoke of dreaming to become ISIS fighters one day.
The children shared this during an interaction with PSC officials who had gone on a mission to evacuation centers where Marawi's displaced residents have been staying.
“’Nagbibigay sila ng pagkain eh at tsaka ‘yung aming mga tatay, binibigyan ng sweldo. Eh wala man ang gobyerno,’” Ramirez quoted one of the Marawi child evacuees as saying.
Padilla said measures were being carried to counter radicalism among the Marawi youth, such as psychological and stress debriefing sessions.
He also addressed displaced residents who may harbor resentment towards the military due to the long-drawn conflict, saying government forces are not the enemy.
“Hindi po natin ginusto na mag-intrude o pumasok sa lugar ng Marawi ng walang dahilan,” he said.
“Ang hinabol po natin diyan ay masasamang loob na walang hinangad kung hindi sirain, wasakin, sunugin, at sirain ang buong kabuhayan sa buong Marawi,” the military official added.
The siege in Marawi City is now on its 67th day, as the Islamic State-linked Maute and Abu Sayyaf terrorist groups continued to repel government’s relentless aerial bombs runs and ground offensives.
Padilla said fighting remains in less than a square kilometer of Marawi and that efforts continue to clear more buildings previously held by terrorist snipers.
He said about 60 Islamic State-inspired terrorists remain holed up in the battle zone.
The government said the death toll from the long-drawn siege has risen to 630: 471 terrorists, 45 civilians, and 114 state troops.
The conflict has displaced some 400,000 residents from Marawi City and nearby areas.
President Rodrigo Duterte placed the entire Mindanao under martial law on May 23 after terrorists captured parts of Marawi in a bid to establish an Islamic State province in the Philippines.
The emergence of groups pledging allegiance to Islamic State has been considered the biggest security problem to face the year-old Duterte administration.
The rise of pro-Islamic State groups in the country has also 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.