Senator Leila M. de Lima today expressed grave concern over the safety of hundreds of civilians who are still trapped in Marawi City due to the ongoing heightened military operations against the ISIS-inspired Maute group.
De Lima said the government forces should step up their efforts in rescuing these civilians following reports that some of them were forced to eat cardboard boxes in order to survive the deteriorating conditions in the area, notably the scarcity of food supplies.
“This is now a humanitarian issue because a substantial number of innocent civilians are still trapped in the conflict areas. Some of them lack food to eat and clean water to drink, if they are lucky enough to survive the heavy exchanges of fire,” she said.
Around 300 to 1,700 civilians reportedly remain trapped in some areas in Marawi despite majority of its 200,000 residents have fled in the early stages of the military operations.
According to some news reports, the Maute fighters have also been using some civilians either to cook or carry ammunitions for them. They have also reportedly recruited children to fight along with them, especially among orphans of Muslim rebels.
The former justice secretary also noted the increasing number of internally-displaced persons (IPDs) who are also suffering in the crowded evacuation areas outside Marawi City with a bleak future for their families and children once the conflict ends.
“Affected local residents already lost their properties and livelihood, while their children’s education, health, and social welfare are adversely affected. Such are the horrors of war that have become so costly for all of us,” she said.
Although Marawi City has a population of over 200,000 people, the Department of Social Welfare and Development reported that as of June 13, about 65,198 families or 316,684 individuals have been displaced from Marawi City and Marantao in Lanao del Sur, 14,772 of whom are reportedly staying in 68 evacuation centers.
About 9,252 families or 43,159 individuals have also been evacuated from Marawi City to Iligan City where the local government unit has reportedly converted a covered court in Bgy. Buru-un as an evacuation center.
Noting that a regular covered court could only accommodate 50 families, De Lima said these evacuation areas are heavily congested at a greater risk to the health and sanity of the thousands of IDPs and their families and children.
To date, at least 290 people have reportedly died since the fighting began in May 23, which includes 206 militants, 58 soldiers and 26 civilians.