As Ramadan begins, Carmela Fonbuena reports on the continuing clashes in Marawi City. Video: Rappler
By Carmela Fonbuena in Marawi City, Philippines
Philippines police have entered ground zero of military clashes with local terrorist groups on the southern island of Mindanao to finally retrieve dead bodies on the streets.
The military earlier said the terrorists had killed 19 civilians in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur.
Among the bodies recovered yesterday were those of three women and a child, said Al Sayyeed Alonto, who joined the retrieval operations in Barangay Basak Malutlut.
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It signals the beginning of attempts by Marawi City to get a semblance of normalcy even as clashes continue for the 6th straight day. The fighting erupted last Tuesday, May 23, prompting President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law in the entire Mindanao.
There is division of laboUr, according to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). The AFP continues operations against the terrorists, police-assisted local government units (LGUs) lead the retrieval of bodies, volunteers rescue families trapped in combat zones, and so on.
“Right now, the LGUs are the ones collecting dead bodies of civilians. Sa amin naka-focus pa rin kami sa (We’re still focusing on) military operations pertaining to clearing and security operations,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera, military spokesman on the Marawi crisis.
The retrieval operations come after eight bodies were found in a ditch near a security checkpoint on Sunday morning. It is unclear if these eight were included in the military’s count of civilian deaths.
Herrera also said more than 200 civilians trapped inside the combat zone have been “rescued” from their homes.
But 2000 others remain trapped in areas controlled by the terrorists, according to Zia Alonto Adiong, spokesman for the Lanao del Sur crisis management committee.
“They have been sending us text messages, calling our hotline, requesting us to send rescue teams but we cannot simply go to areas which are inaccessible to us,” Adiong told Agence France-Presse.
“They want to leave. They are afraid for their safety. Some are running out of food to eat. They fear they will be hit by bullets, by air strikes,” he said.
Surgical air strikes
Air strikes had resumed on Sunday afternoon. The attack choppers could be seen from the provincial capitol.
Herrera said they are surgical attacks targeting fortifications of the local terrorist groups.
“We are still using surgical air strikes dahil mayroon pa rin silang mga (because they still have) fortifications. They are occupying buildings. They are using sniper rifles to inflict casualty on government forces,” he said.
Carmela Fonbuena is a Rappler journalist reporting on the Mindanao conflict.