Jun 29 2017

REFLECTIONS AND ACTION-PLANS AS WE SERVE CIVILIANS IN WAR-TORN MARAWI

Government troops are seen during their tactical operation against the Maute Group-ISIS who have taken over large parts of the Marawi City. 25 May 2017. Photo by Romeo Ranoco

The 2017 Marawi Crisis. The initial skirmishes started in the afternoon of 23 May 2017 between Philippine government security forces and the Maute Group, who were joined by the Abu Sayyaf groups, and claimed themselves to be part of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The clashes began when elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) launched an operation in Marawi City to serve a warrant of arrest against Isnilon Hapilon. Hapilon is a leader of the Abu Sayyaf who was in Marawi to join forces with the Maute group. The Maute group had pledged allegiance to ISIS and are believed to be responsible for the 2016 Davao City bombing according to AFP and PNP reports.

They also occupied the main street and set fire Saint Mary’s Church and Dansalan College, run by the United Church of Christ in the Philippines. The group also attacked the Marawi Cathedral of the Roman Catholic Church, taking The Rev. Fr. Teresito ‘Chito’ Soganub, its Vicar-General, along with several church-goers as hostage.

 

The downtown area of Marawi City burns as the Philippine Air Force sustains its air strikes against the Maute Group-ISIS.

At around 11:20 PM, President Rodrigo Duterte declared Martial Law all over Mindanao from Moscow, where the Russian government was hosting him with several of his government officials. Maute group militants attacked AFP’s Camp Ranao and occupied several buildings in the city, including Marawi City Hall, Mindanao State University, a hospital and the city jail.

On 26 May 2017, the AFP stated that some of the terrorists are foreigners who have been in the country for quite some time, offering support to the Maute group in Marawi.

Almost one month after the Marawi armed conflict started, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that over 314,800 people are displaced. 94 per cent are staying with host families, while 17,700 (6%) people are staying in 83 evacuation centres.

As of 28 June 2017, the casualties reported are as follows:

  • 299 militants killed (11 foreigners)
  • 9 militants captured
  • 71 government forces killed (10 by ‘friendly fire’)
  • 297 government forces wounded
  • 110 civilians dead (59 due to illness)

Most government agencies and civil society groups responded promptly to the needs of internally displaced persons (IDPs) with relief goods and emergency services.

 

Residents of Marawi are moving out of the armed conflict area towards the adjacent City of Iligan.

It’s easy to be merely reactive in this kind of an all-out war scenario. But we want to be proactive. So, we have to look deep within ourselves and make sure that our actions are centered on who we are, which will determine what we will do and what we need to have.

:: First, we will stick with our sense of identity and will be governed by the heart of our mission. PeaceBuilders Community, Inc. (PBCI) is a fellowship of Peace and Reconciliation (PAR) missionary-consultants — peace building operatives, conflict transformation specialists, restorative justice practitioners, disaster response specialists, and community development workers — who are dreaming and working together for a just, radical, and active non-violent transformation of our beautiful land. We normally work in partnership with religious institutions, civil society organizations, political fronts, business corporations, and government agencies.

PAR is the heart of our ministry. PAR is Peace and Reconciliation. Peace—from the Hebrew term ‘shalom’ and the Arabic term ‘salaam’—is understood here as harmony with the Creator (spiritual transformation); harmony with our Being (psycho-social transformation); harmony with Others (socio-political transformation); and, harmony with the Creation (economic-ecological transformation). Reconciliation is focused on building relationships between antagonists. The primary goal is to seek innovative ways to create a time and a place to address, to integrate, and to embrace the painful past and the necessary shared future as a means of dealing with the present.

All our activities in Marawi will be framed in peace-and-reconciliation principles and practices.

:: Second, we will listen to all parties and yet remain on the side of the civilians, both Muslims and Christians, in our actions (programs) and words (official statements). 19-21 June 2017. I joined the 50 leaders and representatives from various civil society organizations who belong to the Mindanao PeaceWeavers. We met in Cagayan de Oro City to compare notes on their perspectives and activities in response to the Marawi Crisis. Our group proceeded to Iligan then to Marawi for a Peace and Solidarity Mission.

 

1. Lakan Sumulong exchanges perspectives with Lt. Col. J. Herrera, the spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for the Marawi Crisis. 2. A Muslim representative from the victims of this war, accompanied by Christian civil society colleagues, shares her views and feelings to AFP officers. 3. Lt. Col. Mamon (a field commander of AFP), Jehan Usop (a Muslim civil society leader), and Lakan Sumulong (a Christian peace worker) pose for a souvernir photo symbolizing inter-faith, action-oriented peace dialogue.

We did a lot of listening. We listened to the volunteers who were rescuing civilians trapped in the crossfire. We listened to the quietness of abandoned homes, destroyed neighborhoods, and militarized zones. We listened to the provincial authority’s political and human security perspectives. We listened to the police and military officers’ view of the armed-conflicted areas. We listened to civilian evacuees and their narratives. We listened to fellow civil society leaders from Marawi City and its immediate surroundings make sure that our interventions are culturally-sensitive and ethically-appropriate. The ‘listening process’ of the entire mission is a combination of dialogue circles, key informant interviews, humanitarian & psycho-social activities, and group conversations which culminated into a solidarity conference among civil society networks.

 

1. Gus Miclat (Executive Director of the Initiatives for International Dialogue), Zia Alonto Adiong (spokesperson of the Lanao del Norte Crisis Management Committee), and Lakan Sumulong (President of PeaceBuilders Community) pose for a picture after a brief information exchange. 2. Brig. Gen. Rolando Bautista (Commanding General, 1st Infantry ‘Tabak’ Division, AFP) and Lakan Sumulong show the “Bangon Marawi” banner representing the civil society Peace and Solidarity Mission to Marawi. 3. Lakan Sumulong, Reinna Bermudez (representing the Commission on Human Rights), and Atty. Naguib Sinarimbo (a Muslim human rights lawyer) briefly shared human security concerns at the Lanao del Sur Capitol Complex.

The whole 3-day event ended in a day of listening session to each other as an All-Out Peace Movement.Together, we were able to develop initial strategic course of actions on how we would respond to Marawi as a network of civil society organizations.

:: Third, we will continue to support the Peace Process between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). We affirm what the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, Jess Dureza, said: “I always say this before, and even now, I can build easily the [physical] structures destroyed by the [armed] conflict. I can also build the school buildings that were burned down. But building of the relationships, bringing back social cohesion, and mending the torn social fabric brought about the conflict takes time. The healing takes time.”

We also laud the statement of the MILF expressing their determination to continue the Peace Process, particularly their call to proceed with the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB):


The MILF is firm in its resolve to settle the legitimate grievances of the Bangsamoro people through the negotiated process now contained in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. The different mechanisms of the peace process are still engaged with their esteemed counterparts in government and are working towards finding ways on how best to address the challenge posed by the violence being committed in Marawi by groups who have chosen to take violence without regard to the best interest of our people. Now more than ever, the MILF and the government must work closely to ensure the protection of the gains of the peace process and to even forge with greater resolve to immediately implement the peace agreement so that no other groups may use its non-implementation to justify their continued pursuit of violence for violence’s sake.


For PBCI, the most practical next step in the implementation of CAB is for the Philippine Congress to pass the newly-drafted Bangsamoro Basic Law.

:: Fourth, we will start our Marawi PAR initiatives through psycho-social debriefing and peace education of children traumatized by this continued violence. The Maute brothers were young men who embraced the violent, radical expression of religiosity propagated by ISIS. They were able to recruit hundreds of young people with their ISIS outlook and were able to challenge the AFP and the PNP over the control of the Islamic City of Marawi.

We, at PBCI, are encouraged to help in this psycho-social debriefing as our response to a Shariah ruling or fatwa promulgated by the Bangsamoro Mufti, Sheik Abehuraira Abdulrahman Udasan against the entry and spread of violent radicalism or extremism in any Bangsamoro community.

 

Please continue praying with us as we discern the Spirit in our on-going response to this human-induced disaster.  Pray for sensitivity and humility among us, leading these operations, and among our field workers, so that we might not do harm as we seek to do good.

Our continuing prayers, and the long-term action path we are taking, are:

  • rescue;
  • relief;
  • rehabilitation;
  • restitution;
  • reconstruction;
  • reconciliation; and,
  • rest.

 

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