Caritas Philippines, the social arm of the Philippine Catholic Church has launched a solidarity appeal to dioceses to extend help to people displaced by the ongoing clash between government troops and the Maute terrorist group in the south of the country, where a Muslim separatist rebellion has raged for decades. “The national Caritas is now appealing to your generosity for any assistance to augment the needs of the internally displaced persons affected by the Marawi siege,” said Caritas Philippines head Archbishop Rolando Tria Tirona of Cáceres in a letter to 85 dioceses and social action directors nationwide.
Caritas Philippines, locally known as the National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA), has initially released an equivalent of some $6,000 to support the relief efforts in the Diocese of Iligan. Private individuals and groups have also been invited to donate through a bank account.
Marawi cathedral attacked
Violence erupted in southern Philippines on the night of 23 May after the army raided the hideout of Isnilon Hapilon, an Abu Sayyaf commander, one of the most-wanted terrorists. The militants called for reinforcements from Maute, a group allied to Islamic State (IS), and the following day gunmen entered St. Mary’s Cathedral in Marawi City and took more than a dozen people hostage, including Vicar General of Marawi, Fr. Chiro Suganod. The terrorists burned buildings, ambushed soldiers and hoisted IS flags.
Martial law in Mindanao
The violence prompted President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday to declare 60 days of martial law in the southern Mindanao islands, where a Muslim separatist rebellion has raged for decades. Philippine forces found corpses in the streets of Marawi on Sunday, including at least eight civilians who appeared to have been executed, as soldiers battled a weakened but still forceful group of militants linked to the Islamic State group. Sixty-one militants, 20 members of the security forces and 19 civilians have been killed since Tuesday.
Marawi residents fleeing violence
With the escalation of violence, Marawi residents have been fleeing the city with thousands of families taking refuge at different evacuation centers in Iligan City, 38 km to the north, and in nearby towns. Data from the Department of Social Welfare and Development showed that more than 55,000 families have fled their homes.
Other dioceses of Mindanao have started helping the Prelature of Marawi assist the displaced families. Archbishop Tirona said a Caritas Philippines assessment team has been deployed to Mindanao this week to further check on the needs of those affected.
Caritas Manila has also sent an initial amount of $10,000 and a consignment of rice to support Iligan Diocese’s relief operations. Bishop Edwin Dela Peña Marawi Prelature said much more needs to be done. “Food, clean water, blankets, sleeping mats, and other essentials remain the top priorities,” he said.
There are no updates yet on Fr. Suganod and others abducted along with him. (Source: CBCP News)