By Ali Macabalang
MARAWI CITY – The fighting between military forces and Islamic State-inspired extremists is now confined to just two and a half barangays in this city, according to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
In his media briefing in Metro Manila on Friday, the AFP spokesperson, Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, did not name the specific areas where fighting still rages, hinting only that the war zone has been limited to 2 ½ barangays. or less than a kilometer in size.
Military officials and elected Maranao officials announced having agreed on allowing evacuees to return to their home towns around Lake Lanao, where municipal governments had offered to shelter them to assure their comfort, pending a complete clearing in this city of militant elements.
Social welfare workers and humanitarian volunteers will still serve the evacuees in towns they would choose to stay in momentarily, Lanao del Sur Vice Gov. Mamintal Alonto-Adiong Jr. said in a televised broadcast Saturday.
The mayors of Taraka, Madalem and other towns around Lake Lanao had earlier offered to shelter evacuees wanting to leave evacuation centers in Northern Mindanao they deemed very inconvenient.
Intervening religious leaders of the Ranao Ulama Group had called off a plan to bring female evacuees in a “symbolic homecoming” to this city on July 24 at the suggestion of some Cabinet officials led by Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana, administrator of the Mindanao-wide martial law.
Youth leader Drieza Abato Lininding, a homecoming coordinator, said Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza had met them on Friday and listened to the humanitarian reasons behind the proposed mass return of evacuees.
Lininding did not enumerate the reasons, saying that such were “finally” appreciated by Sec. Dureza, who reportedly assured to bring them to President Duterte’s attention.
The fighting here, raging for 10 weeks now, has killed 114 government troops and 45 civilians, along with 471 rebels, according to the latest AFP statistics.
It has displaced close to 300,000 residents of this city and adjacent towns in Lanao del Sur, social welfare and health authorities said.
During Friday’s briefing, Gen. Padilla said soldiers were in high spirits, despite the growing number of casualties.
“Despite the number of casualties and wounded that we have had in the past few weeks, this does not deter the troops and our ground commanders from pursuing the mission and accomplishing the much-needed liberation of Marawi. Our troops are in a very high state of morale, all leaning forward to finish this operation at the soonest time possible,” Padilla said.
Donations from local and foreign entities have poured in for the families of the slain soldiers, with an entrepreneurs group giving P1.5-million for each family during a program held in in Malacañang, witnessed by President Duterte and former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
But Padilla said the numbers should not confuse the people. He said the government and the private sector are in full support of displaced Marawi residents, with the state having spent some P200 million for those in evacuation centers.
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