By Ali G. Macabalang
Marawi City – Enraged by the heavy death toll and havoc wrought here by the rampage of radical “brethren,” moderate ethnic Muslims have declared jihad (holy war) against what the moderates called the “misguided” forces of the Maute and Abu Sayyaf militant groups.
Marawi Mayor Majul Gandamra fought back tears as he thanked troops, police, and volunteers in the crisis that has turned parts of the previously tranquil lakeside city of more than 200,000 people, most of whom have fled the fighting, into a smoldering battlefield.
“We’ve suffered enough. Let us join hands now and fight them,” Mayor Gandamra said in Maranao dialect before some subordinates and residents at the 119th Independence Day celebration last Monday.
Mayor Gandamra delivered his message both in English and in Maranao, with the latter part sending many in the crowd sobbing with him.
“We are sacrificing… almost losing our dignity, properties, individual or collective peace, and even lives. It’s time to unite and put up a fight. I swear, I will be with you till my last breath,” he said in tears.
The Islamist militants still control about 20 percent of Marawi, Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, head of military command in Western Mindanao, told Reuters on Tuesday, more than twice the area the military cited last week, suggesting that an end to the bloody three-week siege is not at hand.
“Out of 96 barangays, they are holding portions in Marinaut, Lulut, Mapandi, and Bongolo Commercial District, which only comprise 20 percent of the whole Marawi City … and it’s getting smaller every day,” he said.
Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla had said a week ago that the fighters had been beaten back into just 10 percent of the city.
In Monday’s Independence Day rites, Gandmra was joined by some government troops, some of whom had stood by him inside the city hall compound since the start of the siege.
A crying Maranao female teacher, apparently a relative of the mayor, recounted to reporters how they kept vigil inside the city hall to guard the national flag from being replaced by the militants’ black emblem.
Monday’s highly charged occasion followed separate pronouncements by angry residents, including a retired senior police officer, to take the cudgel and help authorities hunt Isnilon Hapilon and his cohorts who staged the siege here on May 23.
“If given the chance, I will not cuff them because they’re armed. I will pull the trigger first,” the former lawman said in the local dialect, referring to Islamic State Southeast Asian “emir” Hapilon and his cohorts in the Maute Group.
In an earlier statement, incumbent Mindanao Development Authority Chairman Abul Khayr Alonto, a former elected vice mayor of this city, strongly condemned the intrusion here of the militants, accusing them of misrepresenting the Islamic faith in their atrocities.
Alonto, a co-organizer of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), resigned his vice mayoral post after leading the 1973 uprising here against Marcos’ martial law.
In a video message, Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s feisty Commander Abdullah “Bravo” Macapaar called on Hapilon, the Maute Group leaders, and their followers to pull out of this city, saying his battle-tested 2,500-strong band will not hesitate to engage them squarely.
The Regional Darul Ifta (House of Islamic opinions) organized by Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Governor Mujiv Hataman said Sunday that it has launched an “ideological war” against extremists in southern Philippines.
But the President was recently reported as distancing from his earlier calls for other Moro groups to join the fight for fear of escalating the current hostilities to bloodier proportion.
“I care for the Maranaos, my blood relatives,” some Cabinet members and national emissaries quoted President Duterte as telling them in recent meetings.
On the other hand, skeptic residents downplayed the residents’ capability to fight the IS-inspired militants, citing the loss of their guns seized in their private homes by security forces lately.
Meanwhile, five civilians and five policemen trapped in the area where the Maute-Abu Sayyaf terrorists groups are holed up were rescued by the military, police, local government units, and civil society organizations on Tuesday morning.
The five civilians, who came from the compound in Masjid Al-Imam Ali, Barangay Moncado, Cadingilan, were rescued with five PNP personnel by troops and Police Special Action Force commandos policemen at Bangolo Bridge, Marawi City, at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. The civilians were identified as Jeneber Velasques, 26; Rodel Alico, 24; Jerald Docallos, 16; Mateo Velasques, 33; all construction workers from Panadtaran, Gumagamot, Lala, Lanao del Norte.
According to the five civilians, the militants knocked on the door of a house where they were staying with 13 other trapped civilians. This prompted them to run away using the back door going to the river.
But the militants chased and fired at them, killing five of the civilians and taking the remaining eight as hostages.
A source, who requested anonymity, said the five PNP personnel were identified as PO3 Ricky S. Alawi, 46; PO1 Ibrahim P. Wahab, 32; PO1 Lumna B. Lidasan, 44; PO1 Esmael M. Adao, 34; and PO1 Bernard A. Villaries, 52, all from the Marawi City Police Station. (With reports from Francis T. Wakefield, Aaron B. Recuenco, AFP, and Reuters)
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