By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Following President Duterte’s announcement that Marawi City is “liberated” from the terrorist group Dawlah Islamiya, Moro groups are calling for an independent probe on the human rights violations committed by state troops in the course of the almost five-month battle in the Islamic city.
Duterte declared Marawi “liberated” on Oct. 17, following the killing of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon and Dawlah Islamiya leader Omar Maute in a military assault on Oct. 16. The military, however, said pursuit operations still continue to capture the remaining members of the group, as well as rescue their hostages.
Duterte said the announcement “marks the beginning of rehabilitation of the city.” In a speech Oct. 19, however, the President said he will not lift martial law “until the last terrorist is taken out.”
Moro groups Suara Bangsamoro and the Marawi evacuees’ organization, Tindeg Ranao, said the President’s declaration of Marawi’s liberation was “ironic.”
“Because in place of ‘terrorists,’ the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) aided by foreign troops including the US military, are still control of Marawi City,” said a statement by the groups. They said martial law remains imposed in Mindanao and the military has been given a major role in the rehabilitation of the city.
The AFP said the city also still needs to be cleared of improvised explosion device (IED) reportedly left by the Dawlah.
The Moro groups said the declaration of military victory over terrorists should not gloss over the atrocities committed by soldiers against civilians caught in the conflict. Human rights violations, such as extrajudicial killings, disappearance, and destruction of property were documented by two national inter-faith humanitarian missions that went to Marawi and Maguindanao in June and July.
A number of civilians trapped in the besieged city were reportedly killed, as they were inside structures hit by airstrikes. Thirteen soldiers were also among those killed in two incidents of airstrikes that accidentally targeted the government troops’ position. Some 400,000 evacuees were displaced from Marawi and nearby towns.
“Government should be held responsible for the death and displacement of Marawi residents and destruction of their community due to military airstrikes,” said the groups.
But most victims are afraid to file complaints for fear of harassment from the military, specially under martial law.
“Maranao evacuees from Tindeg Ranao who want to return to Marawi City are afraid of military reprisal should they decide to file cases or hold the government responsible for the destruction of their communities,” said Tindeg Ranao.