“Corpses of civilians litter Marawi City streets, unrecovered by families who were forcibly evacuated or driven out by fear of aerial strikes.”
By IAN IRVING BAZARTE
MANILA — The members of a three-day National Interfaith Humanitarian Mission (NIHM) held last week in Mindanao painted a picture rarely glimpsed in media portrayals of the Marawi City siege and martial law in Mindanao. During a press conference in Quezon City on Thursday, June 22, the mission reported needless hardships and human rights violations being suffered by civilians at the hands of government forces, whether directly or indirectly.
The fighting in Marawi City erupted in the afternoon of May 23 following a government operation to capture former Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon triggering offensives by the Dawla Islamiyah led by the Maute brothers. In response, Duterte issued Proclamation 216, placing the entirety of Mindanao under martial law.
The Interfaith mission was conducted from June 13 to 16. It covered Marawi City, Mamasapano, Maguindanano, and Matan-ao, Davao del Sur. One of its groups, however, was blocked by military forces from entering Marawi City.
Ustadz Alimondas Laut, an evacuee from Marawi City, shared his story at the press conference. He and his family members were ordered by the military, on May 24, to evacuate Marawi City in six hours. If not, they were threatened with reprisals.
He said they evacuated safely to Iligan City where they stayed with relatives. Compared to other evacuees who went to overcrowded evacuation centers, he felt a bit luckier.
He found Marawi City unrecognizable now, a far cry from the beautiful city it once was. He said corpses of civilians litter Marawi City streets, unrecovered by families who were forcibly evacuated or driven out by fear of aerial strikes.
Asked how he knew of the deaths when his family had evacuated, he replied that the people who did not leave as early as them notified them by text messages. Rev. Chris Ablon of Kalinaw Mindanao also shared the accounts of some evacuees who witnessed their loved ones killed in air strikes or artillery fire. The evacuees gave the names of those they saw killed. A family of evacuees who managed to bury their dead said they saw corpses unrecovered by families who had evacuated.
They were just left there exposed to the elements, said Laut.
“Nakikiusap lang kami, mahal naming pangulo, ikaw po mismo nagsasabi na may dugo kang Maranao, may dugo kang Maranao na kami po ay mga kapwa mo Maranao. Kami po ang nasasaktan, kami po ay nasasaktan ang mga bata at lahat ng mga Muslim. Mga kapwa mo Maranao ay sila ang tinatamaan ng mga strikes,” he tearfully said. (We are begging of you, our dear president, you yourself said you have a Maranao bloodline. We are being hurt, we are getting hurt, the children and all Muslims. Your fellow Maranao are the ones getting hit by the strikes.)
Jerome Succor Aba, chairperson of the Suara Bangsamoro, warned of a looming, terrible humanitarian crisis as a result of martial law and intense bombing of communities in Mindanao.
The mission reported that in Marawi City, Maguindanao, and North Cotabato, the most prevalent cases of human rights violation were forcible evacuation. Next were cases of indiscriminate aerial and artillery bombardments that resulted in the destruction of lives and property.
Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said they documented at least nine killings of civilians under Duterte’s martial law in Mindanao. She said the military is using martial law as an excuse for totally disregarding civilian authority and human rights, such as the right against illegal arrests.
Many evacuees reported cases of soldiers detaining anyone long-haired or wearing black clothing. This person is immediately interrogated and held for hours on the military’s assumption that they might be Maute group members.
Rev. Irma Balaba of church group Promotion of Church Peoples’ Response (PCPR) lamented the military’s use of mosques as forward bases in their battle against the Maute group. Many Muslims, as a result, are unable to hold religious celebrations.
“Sa giyerang ito, palaging talo ang mga sibilyan,” (In this war it’s the civilians who lose out) she said.
Lumads suffer under martial law
In a statement, Pya Macliing Malayao, Igorot secretary general of indigenous rights group Katribu Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (KATRIBU) said martial law has been disastrous for Lumad communities in Mindanao.
“For the indigenous peoples, the declaration of martial law in Mindanao has unleashed the intensified military offensives against the Lumad communities,” Malayao said.
Malayao said operations conducted by military forces in Matan-ao, Davao del Sur led to the evacuation of at least 1000 Lumads, or around 300 Blaan families, and resulted in the death of Kagawad Daniol Lasib, a local Lumad leader.
“Martial law is now clearly giving the military, and at least 34 paramilitary groups under AFP in Mindanao, a stronger license to pillage Lumad and Moro communities, abduct and murder known activists and ordinary citizens, and terrorize communities,” Malayao said.
“The declaration of martial law is not aimed at sowing peace in Mindanao. Its fangs are really aimed at the people with legitimate demands for their right to self-determination, and who are fighting against environmental plunder, all forms [of] national oppression to the national minorities, and US intervention,” she added.
Women’s and children’s rights violations
Gabriela Women’s Partylist Rep. Arlene Brosas said children and women residents of Marawi City suffered from economic insecurities, a direct result of the government’s aerial bombings that left workplaces destroyed or abandoned.
“Walang wala kaming pera dito,” (We have no money here at all) she quoted a Marawi evacuee as saying.
Many evacuation centers lacked even basic necessities such as running water for washing clothes and bathing, sanitary items, electricity, and in some cases, food and drinking water. There are no facilities for pregnant women. There is a lack of sanitary toilet and bathroom.
She added that many residents, especially the children, are in dire need of mental health treatment to help them cope with stress and anxieties. She noted that the government has little effort to address this so far.
Brosas also noted that families evacuated early on for fear that soldiers might rape their women. In fact, some families pushed their unmarried daughters to evacuate earlier. Fatima (not her real name), 23, a resident of Marawi City, told the mission how soldiers told her and her family that they should remain “good girls” or the soldiers will rape them.
Other evacuees said the soldiers used the rape warning to force the residents to leave their houses.
Brosas said the Makabayan bloc filed House Resolution No. 1085 asking the House of Representatives’ Committee on Human Rights to conduct an inquiry on the plight of evacuees from the Marawi City crisis.
Rep. Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna stressed that clear action must be taken to resolve the Marawi crisis.
“Dapat may managot dito. Hindi pwedeng sorry na lang,” (Someone has to answer for this. Just saying sorry won’t cut it.) he said.
Another mission on July
Aba told Bulatlat after the press conference that another humanitarian mission to Marawi City will be launched this July. He said the government’s removal of a deadline in resolving the Marawi crisis was “worrying.”