Muslim religious and civil leaders in the southern Philippine city of Marawi appealed on Thursday to the government of President Rodrigo Duterte to resolve in a "civilized manner" the conflict that has besieged the city for four weeks now.
The fighting between security forces and terrorists has displaced most of the more than 200,000 residents of Marawi, the bastion of Islamic faith in the south of the predominantly Roman Catholic nation. According to the army 290 people have been killed in the more than three weeks of fighting for control of the city, including 206 militants, 58 soldiers and 26 civilians. A total of 132 public and private schools, 22,000 students, and 2,200 teaching staff in Marawi have been affected by the fighting that broke out on May 23.
"The socio-economic and religious activities of our people have been tremendously affected," said Abdul Hamidullah Atar, the sultan of Marawi, in a letter dated June 15 addressed to Duterte. A copy of the letter obtained by UCANEWS bore 18 signatures of other tribal leaders. Atar said the crisis could have been prevented if Duterte had listened to "traditional and religious leaders" before declaring war against the terrorist group. "We could have influenced these radical people, however our voice was never recognized by the government," he regretted. Referring to the local terrorist Maute group, the Muslim leaders said, "the radical people in some way respect the elders of a clan." "Conflicts" among clans and tribes in Mindanao, the Muslim leaders said, are resolved "using traditional negotiation." "We would like to convey to you that war is not an option," they said. They said they all “condemn the act of terrorism in any form but we need you also to listen."
Violence in southern Philippines erupted on the night of 23 May after a botched attempt by the security forces to capture a noted rebel commander. The militants called for reinforcements from the Maute, a group allied to the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group, and some 50 gunmen entered Marawi. They took a Catholic priest and more than a dozen churchgoers hostage in an attack in which they burned buildings, ambushing soldiers and hoisting IS flags. President Rodrigo Duterte has declared martial law in the southern third of the nation and warned he would enforce it harshly.
Muslim civil leader Samira Gutoc-Tomawis has appealed to the warring sides to observe a ceasefire to allow trapped civilians to escape the war zone. "Please give life a chance. The fight to liberate Marawi out of radical ideology is long term, and it must not be at the expense of civilian lives," said Tomawis. Governor Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao said at least 1,000 civilians remained trapped.
Meanwhile, Muslim and Christian volunteers launched a "humanitarian mission" this week to help communities affected by the ongoing conflict. "We will visit victims of forced evacuations, provide relief packs, and conduct psychosocial intervention," said Aida Ibrahim, spokeswoman of Kalinaw Mindanao, an alliance of faith-based and human rights groups. Kalinaw Mindanao launched the "National Interfaith Humanitarian Mission", June 13-16, aimed at bringing relief and medical services to victims of the conflict. "Kalinaw, meaning peace, is what we seek in Mindanao," Ibrahim, adding that "so much suffering and violence has been done. "This has to stop now," she stressed. "We will also listen to the stories of Marawi residents on the extent of damage done by military airstrikes and martial law in Mindanao," said Ibrahim.
Jerome Succor Aba of the group Suara Bangsamoro said that while they condemn the violence committed by the terrorist gunmen "the exaggerated counter-terror response [by the military] has aggravated the situation."
Caritas Philippines, the social action arm of the Catholic Church, has called on the people to keep supporting the displaced. “Let us all work together and put our minds, emotions, and assistance together for our countrymen in need,” said Archbishop Rolando Tria Tirona of Caceres, chairman of Caritas Philippines. Caritas had earlier appealed for solidarity to the families adversely affected by the clashes.
“We hope the chaos, the war will soon be over and we can all return to our normal and peaceful life,” Bishop Edwin de la Pena of Marawi Prelature told Radio Veritas on tuesday He hoped the government will be able to bring back peace as people are longing to return home live a normal life.