By Argyll Cyrus B. Geducos
The military has banned the entry of civilians in war-torn Marawi City.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) bared Saturday in response to claims that the military blocked the delivery of relief goods to trapped residents of the besieged city.
AFP spokesman Restituto Padilla, during the Mindanao Hour press briefing, said it was not the intention of the military to block the delivery of the relief goods and explained that they just do not allow the entry of civilians to ensure their safety.
“Let us not put or point fingers at our troops for blocking them. We did not block them,” Padilla said.
Former congressman Teddy Casiño had earlier claimed that the military blocked his group when they were about to deliver assistance to Marawi residents last Thursday.
According to Padilla, Casiño’s group, who were part of a convoy delivering relief goods, may not have coordinated with the local government or if they did, the local government did not coordinate with the military.
“The roadblock that they’re saying is the checkpoint that is in between Iligan and Marawi and we have not been allowing anyone else other than local government and other officials to come in to Marawi because of the conflict that is ongoing,” Padilla explained.
“But the local government did not coordinate with the military and the military would not have recommended it to push through. They would have been advised just to give it to those providing relief in Iligan and will be transported to Marawi itself,” he added.
The army official said they have requested those who have been giving and those who want to give relief goods to channel the items through the local government.
“We have also requested all those who have been giving relief goods to channel the relief goods through the local government who can then distribute it in the evacuation centers, without them going into the danger zone,” he said.
Padilla also said that they are trying to avoid any collateral damage or any incident, citing the wounding of the Australian journalist who was grazed by a stray bullet in the neck.
“As you may have heard, there was an incident involving a media man right at the very heart of the capitol, where a stray grazed his neck,” Padilla said.
“So we don’t want anyone getting hit any of these stray bullets if they go to Marawi itself,” he added.
“So in the interest of safety, we have been working closely with local government and its social welfare arm and health arm to provide the services needed by the evacuees without necessarily having other people from the outside exposed to danger,” he continued.
Padilla, meanwhile, lauded concerned citizens and assured them that their relief goods will reach the Marawi citizens even without them going to the war-torn city themselves.
“In any case, whatever assistance there are coming from the private sector, from concerned individuals, you need not personally deliver them by yourself because you will unnecessarily put yourselves in the danger areas,” he said.
“Your being good Samaritans is well-acknowledged and your help will definitely get where it is intended and that is guaranteed,” he added.
Marawi City in Lanao del Sur has been under siege by the Islamic State (ISIS)-inspired Maute Group since May 23, prompting the declaration of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of writ of habeas corpus in the entire Mindanao for 60 days.
Security in Iligan, CdO tightened
As clashes continue in Marawi, the Armed Forces said that some of the Islamist militants may have mingled with evacuees to slip away during the battle that has raged for nearly four weeks.
Padilla said security had been tightened in the cities of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro and the authorities there were on the lookout for suspicious characters who might “attempt to sow some confusion or sow terror.”
“We’re not denying that there’s probably a few who may have slipped along with the evacuees from Marawi going to Iligan and Cagayan de Oro,” he told reporters in Manila, while OV-10 aircraft in Marawi pounded an area where militants have been holed up since May 23.
The military says that up to 200 fighters, most of them from local insurgent groups that have pledged allegiance to Islamic State but also some foreign fighters, are holding out, using civilians as human shields and mosques as safe havens.
The attempt by hundreds of well-armed militants to overrun and seal off the city has alarmed governments across Southeast Asia, which fear that Islamic State – losing ground in Iraq and Syria – is trying to establish a foothold in their region that could bring a rash of extremist violence.
The defense ministers and military chiefs of Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines will meet in the Indonesian town of Tarakan, on Borneo island, on Monday to discuss the threat and agree on steps to coordinate better to confront terrorism.
A port town, Tarakan is just south of the Malaysian side of Borneo and looks out across the sea to Mindanao in the southern Philippines, a sprawling island that has been plagued by insurgencies and banditry for decades.
Padilla told reporters that talk of fighters planning attacks in neighboring cities was based on “misinformation that’s being spread by the enemies” and in fact their capacity was severely reduced.
In a battle assessment on Friday, the military said those still in the city were also weakening.
“Enemy resistance continues to dwindle and enemy-held areas continues to get smaller as troops advance,” it said, but giving no indication of how long it might take to retake the town.
Meanwhile, Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial clarified that there were only 19 affected individuals who died outside the war-torn Marawi City.
This came after reports quoting Ubial surfaced, saying 59 evacuees have died in evacuation centers amid the ongoing armed conflict in Marawi City.
In an interview over Brigada News FM early Saturday morning, Ubial said she did not know where the figure came from, even after she reviewed the footage of her interview with the members of the media in Legazpi City, Albay, on Thursday.
“Pinaulit-ulit ko po ang video, wala pong posibilidad na ma-misquote ako. Klarong-klaro po ang sinabi ko. Wala po akong sinabi na may 59 na namatay (I reviewed the video so many times and it is impossible that I have been misquoted. What I said was clear. I never said that 59 died),” Ubial said.
According to the Health secretary, the 19 individuals died in hospitals and not in evacuation centers and these 19 had pre-existing conditions like cancer.
Ubial said that she is convinced that the reports intentionally gave the wrong numbers to misinform the public. (With a report from Reuters)
Tags: AFP spokesman Restituto Padilla, Armed Forces of the Philippines, Corporal Elmer Macliing Anno, ISIS, local government, Maute Group, Only local officials allowed entry; security in Iligan City CdO tightened
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