By DANIEL BOONE
Around 400 families cramped inside tight-spaced evacuation centers, with no electricity nor water supply. This is how delegates from a humanitarian mission described the situation of evacuees who fled from war-torn Marawi City.
There are also few doctors and health workers to check the ill, the humanitarian mission report said. “Hindi alam ng mga buntis kung saan magpapa-check up o aabutin ng panganganak (Pregnant women have nowhere to go for check-up or where to deliver their babies.)”
The National Interfaith Humanitarian Mission (NIHM), held from June 14 to 16 in Mindanao, aimed to gather data and first-hand accounts and documentations from the people directly affected by the siege in Marawi City. Around 400 volunteers from different regions and faith joined the mission. Among them were three employees of the University of the Philippines–Diliman (UPD): Felix Pariñas of the Department of European Languages, Alfred Olorvida of the Campus Maintenance Office, and Jo Florendo-Lontoc of the Media Public Relations Office.
The three shared the NIHM report in a press forum on June 20 held at College of Mass Communication in UP Diliman.
The mission visited different evacuation sites from seven villages in Saguiaran, Lanao Del Sur and in Iligan, Lanao del Norte. Both municipalities are adjacent to Marawi City.
“Malinaw na hindi nila pinili ang magbuhay-bakwit. . . Kung hindi sa papalapit na papalapit na mga bombardment at haging ng mga bala mula sa walang habas na pagpapaputok ay hindi nila iiwan ang tahanan at kabuhayan, said the report. (It is clear that none of the evacuees chose to flee their homes. . . If it was not for the attacks getting nearer and bullets fired point-blank, almost hitting them, they would not leave their homes and their livelihood.)
The mission also planned to go inside Marawi City but were not allowed by the authorities guarding the all entry points, Pariñas said in a forum held in UPD on June 20. “Ang tanong ko naman, kung delikado sa Marawi, bakit nila hinahayaan ang [humigit-kumulang 300 pamilya] na manatili roon. (My question is if it is unsafe inside Marawi City, why do they let [around 300 families] stay there),” Pariñas added.
Since May 23, some 200,000 residents of Marawi City have fled their homes and evacuated following clashes between government troops and the allegedly Isis-affiliated Dawla Islamiyah led by the Maute brothers. It was only aggravated by the imposition of martial law in the whole island on the same night which, according to the government, was justified by continuous attacks.
But while the government vowed that martial law will not be abused, the NIHM revealed that in reality, it has only instilled more fear on the residents primarily affected by the conflict.
Government air strike and artillery bombardment turned the whole city into a ghost town, the delegates said in the forum. This is apart from the harassment on those without identification cards (IDs) and rape threats to women, insinuated by President Rodrigo Duterte himself.
Checkpoints are also everywhere, said Pariñas. Lines of vehicles reach more than half-a-kilometer because authorities are meticulously checking bags for IDs, and conducting short interviews, asking about religious beliefs. Authorities are also comparing faces with photos of known members of the terrorist groups.
This situation in Mindanao has spread paranoia even in nearby areas, like Iligan city and Saguiaran. Curfew hours are from 9 PM to 5 AM, but streets are already empty even before 8PM, said the NIHM. The mission said that more than ever, people in Mindanao are in dire need of help like relief operations.
The NIHM also encouraged the military to ensure all help reaches the evacuees, on top of stopping aerial bombings and formulating a comprehensive rehabilitation plan to rebuild the Marawi City and other affected areas.