Evacuees displaced by the ongoing battle between government forces and the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups in Mindanao are suffering and remain in danger in various evacuation centers, participants of a humanitarian mission to Marawi and Iligan cities said.
In a press forum yesterday, participants of the National Interfaith Humanitarian Mission from the University of the Philippines-Diliman reported the evacuation sites they visited have inadequate facilities and services for the hundreds of families displaced by the fighting.
The mission visited Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur provinces where they interviewed dozens of displaced families who complained of bad conditions in the evacuation centers as the fighting in Marawi City entered its fourth week.
Mission participant and UP System Information Office staff Jo Lontoc said the evacuees complained of lack of government services and support in the evacuation centers for displaced families.
“Some residents only evacuated when the aerial bombardment started,” Lontoc said.
“In one unregistered evacuation center, around 400 families are staying in a three-storey building with no electricity and only one water faucet,” he said.
The evacuees rely on rechargeable solar lamps during night time, Lontoc added.
Held last June 13 to 16, the mission conducted fact-finding interviews, medical and relief operations as well as psycho-social interventions for Marawi City residents who fled to neighboring Iligan City when the fighting broke out last May 23.
The mission participants expressed concern for the safety of evacuees who are still in Marawi.
“If the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is really concerned about the safety of the displaced persons, they should not allow an evacuation center to be set up beside the military camp in Marawi City,” mission participant and All UP Workers’ Union member Felix Pariñas said.
“Evacuation centers should be outside Marawi and away from the fighting and bombing where civilians are safe from stray bullets, aerial bombings and other threats,” he added.
Pariñas said the evacuees are in danger of being used as human shields by both the AFP and the Maute group as long as they are inside Marawi while the fighting is ongoing.
Meanwhile, in Iligan City, President Rodrigo Duterte visited an evacuation center for the first time yesterday since the fighting started where he distributed relief goods as well as a cash bundle to representatives of the evacuees.
Duterte also apologized for declaring martial law in Mindanao and allowing AFP aerial bombings in Marawi that destroyed several properties in the besieged city. # (Luigi Renzo Naval of UP-CMC for Kodao Productions/Featured image by Kalinaw UP)