With Marawi City in turmoil, thousands of residents fleeing for their lives, gun battles between government troops and the terrorist Abu Sayyaf and Maute Group, and air strikes on the terrorists’ positions, the need to save lives has become paramount.
The announcement of Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial that all government hospitals in Mindanao are “fully operational” is thus reassuring in this distressing time. “We are confident that our hospital personnel possess the necessary competence to carry out immediate measures, facilitate recovery efforts, and reduce the impact of any emergency event that may arise,” she said in a statement, the implementation of which is devoutly wished.
Additionally and importantly, Ubial said the Department of Health would be there for all Filipinos regardless of creed or belief. “The [DOH] will certainly not discriminate against any sector of the Filipino population in the performance of its duty, whether the patients be on the government side or otherwise, especially when it comes to health-related emergencies,” she said.
According to Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera, spokesperson for the Army’s 1st Infantry Division, 15 government men—13 soldiers and two policemen—have been killed, and 45 have been wounded. As many as 41 from the enemy camp have been killed. But here’s the unfortunate thing: The number of slain civilians is uncertain.
The fighting has triggered a wave of evacuations, with everyone capable of leaving, including children and the elderly, striving to get out of the embattled city. More than half of Marawi’s over 200,000 residents were said to have fled by the end of the week. They set out on the road to Iligan City—and hopefully, safety—with only what they could carry with them. In a heartening act, volunteers lined the road to hand out food and water to the fleeing Maranaw, many of whom would walk 10 arduous hours to get to the neighboring city.
The sentiment was best expressed by the Facebook post of Amir Riga: “For those going to Iligan to Marawi. There’s free food for you. We will endure rain and being tired just so we can ensure that you won’t get hungry in traffic for more than 10 hours. Take care.” Riga also called for food donations for the refugees, showing that while times of crisis bring out the worst in people, they also bring out the best.
But what about those who are unable to leave Marawi, trapped by gunfire and the fires set by the Maute Group? Civilians are waving white flags from their widows to indicate that they are not combatants. “At night, we can hear the gunfire. I’m just praying that the bullets will not find their way to my house and hit us. I hope that the bombs will not land nearby and harm us,” said resident Mohammad Usman. The bombs he is talking about are those being dropped by the military in “surgical air strikes,” according to the 1st Infantry Division’s Herrera.
As military jets flew over Marawi and tanks rolled into the streets, people may be reminded of similar scenes of destruction: In September 2013, forces identified with the Moro National Liberation Front entered Zamboanga City and took over several areas. It took 4,500 government soldiers and policemen three weeks to wrest back the city, leaving 10,000 houses razed, 218 people dead, hundreds injured, and more than 100,000 residents displaced. Zamboanga City still has to fully recover from that nightmare today, and MNLF founder Nur Misuari has yet to be brought to account for his men’s crimes.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has reminded both government forces and terrorists in Marawi to spare civilians in the fighting. “International humanitarian law remains applicable in this situation, even after the declaration of martial law in Mindanao. As such it must be respected at all times and by all the parties,” said Pascal Porchet, head of the ICRC delegation in the Philippines.
In resisting the advance and rooting out the agents of terrorism in Marawi, it is important that lives, especially of noncombatants, be protected and saved. It is also important that in the imposition of martial law in the whole of Mindanao, the abuses for which Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law was notorious be prevented and avoided. And no, rape jokes certainly do not help.
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