LARAWAN: Martsa ng mamamayan sa SONA ng Bayan 2017

OFWs worry about families in Mindanao evacuation camps

By Angel L. Tesorero, Khaleej Times

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates–Two months on and fighting in Marawi City in southern Philippines between government troops and a Daesh-inspired group is still ongoing. Death toll is rising and many Filipino expats are worried about their relatives staying at various evacuation camps.

Sharjah resident and former MarCom (Maranao Community) president Roy Tamano said: “The forces of Maute group have dissipated – they are now playing hide-and-seek with the government. But there are still sporadic clashes and it is still not safe for Marawi residents to return home.

“Thousands of families have been staying in different evacuation centres since the fighting erupted before the start of Ramadan on May 23. Many people have died not because they were caught in the crossfire but because of the poor condition at evacuation centres,” Tamano told Khaleej Times.

The fighting in Marawi has resulted in Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of martial law in the entire province of Mindanao to stem terrorism and restore order.

“They (Marawi evacuees) are down both physically and psychologically. The (Philippine) government’s Department of Social Welfare and Development is doing its best to help the refugees but they can only do so much as the sheer volume of needs by the evacuees is too much.”

Luckily for Tamano, his immediate relatives were the part of the first wave of evacuees and they are now safe at the homes of their relatives in nearby provinces.

“But many ran away with nothing but a few valuable possessions. Now, they only rely on the kindness of socio-civic groups and charity organisations,” Tamano said.

“The fighting has not only wrecked havoc on their livelihood but also on their morale. Maranaos (residents of Marawi) are a proud people and now they had to swallow their pride and accept ‘donations’ just to survive,” he underlined.

Tamano added that the number of casualties reported by the government is very conservative.

According to a recent report by the military, around 507 people have died – of this number, 379 were terrorists ; 89 were soldiers and 39 were civilian residents.

“Many cadavers are not yet collected,” Tamano said. “Only after the war has concluded and a thorough clearing operation is conducted can we ascertain the number of casualties,” he explained.

Even the body of the husband of Tamano’s cousin, Aleem Saipodin Gato, an Islamic preacher and former councillor of Marawi City, who is believed to have been killed by the Mautes is still not recovered.

For Hanifah Ampatuah, she is worried that her family and relatives have nothing left of their properties when they go back home.

“Our rice fields were burned and our source of income were destroyed. Even our ancestral home, which was built in the 1950s and has withstood the test of time, was razed to the ground,” she said.

“We fervently hope and pray that the fighting will stop and we can start rebuilding our beautiful Islamic City of Marawi,” she concluded.

Filipino community holds prayer for peace

Muslim and Christian Filipino expats recently held an ecumenical Prayer for Peace in Marawi at St. Francis Church in Jebel Ali. Vice-consuls Marianne Bringas and Elizabeth Ramos were present as well as some leaders of the Filipino community.

In Abu Dhabi, the Philippine Embassy collected letters of support from students and sent them to the Philippines.

“We were enjoined by the Department of Foreign Affairs to facilitate the participation of overseas Filipinos in UAE in this campaign. Of course, we are more than willing to do as our little contribution to the efforts of our brave soldiers in fighting terrorists. We hope that through these messages of support, the whole armed forces would feel that they are alone in their noble mission,” Rowena Pangilinan-Daquipil, third secretary and vice consul at the Philippine Embassy, told Khaleej Times. #

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Educators urge lifting of martial law in Mindanao

Educators who participated in the National Interfaith Humanitarian Mission in the Lanao provinces last June 13 to 16 are demanding the lifting of Martial Law in Mindanao.

In a press briefing at the University of the Philippines last June 20, the educators said martial law and the indiscriminate manner in which the war against terror groups in Marawi City is being conducted are creating a grave humanitarian crisis that victimizes civilians. Read more

Marawi students resent destruction of schools, humanitarian mission reports

Students in Marawi struggle to regain access to education as the new school year started amid battles between government troops and the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups, educators who recently visited evacuation centers in Mindanao said.

“The students harbor deep resentment because their return to their schools for the new school year has been hampered,” All UP Workers’ Union’s Felix Pariñas said.

Pariñas, who participated in the National Interfaith Humanitarian Mission to Marawi and Iligan cities last June 13 to 16 was among the panellists in the Books Not Bullets: A Press Forum on the National Humanitarian Interfaith Mission & Needs Assessment by the University of the Philippines-Diliman Delegation held last June 20.

ACT Teachers Party Rep. France Castro, another mission participant, for her part said more than 20,000 students in the affected areas remain unaccounted for by the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Commission on Higher Education.

She added that 1,424 teachers are still trapped in Marawi itself, 700 of whom are unaccounted for or have yet to report their status to the DepEd, Castro reported.

The DepEd has reportedly mobilized the Learning Continuity Program that aims to transfer internally-displaced students to schools near Marawi.

But Pariñas said DepEd’s program still has little or no effect as students in various evacuation centers are unsure about their chances of resuming schooling.

UP System Information Office’s Jo Lontoc, also a mission delegate to Iligan and Marawi, said there have yet to be arrangements by the DepEd, the schools and the local government units on the affected students’ situation.

“The fighting broke out during the enrolment period.  They really don’t know if they can still go back to school in the near future,” Lontoc said.

The students also expressed hopes for an end the aerial bombings in Marawi, the delegates said.

“They demand an end to the aerial bombing, hoping they would still have schools to go back to when the fighting stops,” Pariñas said.

“Tattered, ragged,” Pariñas described an elementary school the mission visited.

Lontoc added that many students staying in Marawi dormitories were also forced to evacuate and have yet to reunite with their families.

“They are also evacuees who are separated from their families,” Lontoc said.

Pariñas added that students fear for their safety after President Rodrigo Duterte’s statement he would condone rape by soldiers as Mindanao is under martial law anyway.

“They dread the consequences of the President’s statement,” Pariñas said.

Inefficient response

The mission delegates said that while DepEd organized relief efforts to aid students with school bags and school uniforms, these are bogged down by inefficient distribution as well as safety concerns and martial law restrictions.

“Multiple checkpoints worsen already existing issues such as traffic, even outside Marawi. This limits the inflow of volunteers such as the UP delegates from carrying out their mission,” the delegates said.

Castro said the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives intends to file a house resolution for an investigation into the validity of martial law imposition and the possible humanitarian abuses in Mindanao when regular Congress sessions resume on June 24. # (Eunice Lei Wu of UP-CMC for Kodao Productions / Featured image courtesy of Gabby Endona and Gabe Sante of UP-CMC )

Mission reports woeful conditions in Lanao evacuation centers

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. Read more

Duterte points at Lorenzana for US presence in Marawi

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte said it was the Defense department that decided to seek help from the United States armed forces in the ongoing battle for Marawi City.

In a press briefing during a visit to wounded soldiers in Cagayan de Oro City today, Duterte said he did not know the US military was already in Marawi helping the Armed Forces of the Philippines fight the Maute and Abu Sayyaf terror groups.

“I am not aware of that until they arrived. When I declared martial law, I gave the power to the defense department,” the President said as he gestured at National Defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana standing beside him. Read more

NDFP offers unilateral ceasefire with GRP vs terrorism

NOORDWIJK AAN ZEE, The Netherlands–The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace panel has formally offered the Duterte government “cooperation and coordination” in the “fight against terrorism, terrorist groups and acts of terrorism.”

After last-minute backchannel talks with Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III, the NDFP said that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) may be bound by a ceasefire agreement in specific areas to “counteract the Maute group and the Abu Sayyaf.”

Bello and GRP peace panel member Angela Trinidad returned to this city from trips in Italy and Switzerland and met with the NDFP for four hours.

“He came with an offer if the NDFP can issue a statement he could welcome and respond to,” Agcaoili said.

Bello was able to read the NDFP statement before going to Schipol Airport for his flight back to Manila.

“I will just wait for a signed copy to be sent to me,” Bello told Kodao before leaving the hotel.

The NDFP said that should the GRP respond favorably to their statement, “ceasefire declarations that are unilateral but simultaneous and reciprocal” shall be issued.

Such ceasefire declarations should be negotiated and approved by the negotiating panels, Agcaoili said.

The NDFP said the Maute group and the Abu Sayyaf are “terrorist groups linked to local reactionary forces, affiliated with the ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) and supported by the US-CIA (United States-Central Intelligence Agency) as well as other foreign entities.”

“By terrorism we mean actions that intimidate, terrorize and harm civilians solely and mainly in violation of human rights and international humanitarian law,” the NDFP added.

Back to the negotiating table

The NDFP also urged the GRP negotiating panel to come back to the negotiating table and realize the fifth round of formal talks as soon as possible.

“The GRP and NDFP must act in consonance with the Filipino people’s clamor for peace negotiations and their demand for social, economic and political reforms to address the roots of the armed conflict and lay the basis for a just and lasting peace,” the NDFP said.

The fifth round of formal talks originally scheduled to end today was aborted last May 28 when the GRP announced it will not participate for “lack of an enabling environment.”

Preparations for the fifth round of formal talks must be undertake through bilateral teams of the GRP and the NDFP so that precious time is not lost, the NDFP said.

The group added that all its panellists, legal and political consultants and other personnel in the peace negotiations must be allowed to return to the Philippines and subsequently attend the fifth round of formal talks.

GRP President Rodrigo Duterte earlier threatened to arrest and jail the NDFP consultants who may return to the Philippines after the aborted talks. # (Report and photo by Raymund B. Villanueva)

The NDFP Statement of June 1, 2017.