‘Leave mosques, fight in the open’

Place of worship not for hiding, Maute told

MALABANG, Lanao del Sur—The governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao  on Tuesday challenged the Maute and Abu Sayyaf terrorists in Marawi City to stop hiding in mosques and face government troops squarely in the battlefield.

ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman said the terrorists probably wanted to provoke the military into calling an airstrike on the mosques and use this to gain sympathy from Muslims.

Hataman’s challenge came as the military announced the arrest of a Maute brother who they said provided the terrorist group with logistics, transporting ammunition by boat from the southern lakeshore of Lanao Lake, and transporting wounded militants from the main battle area to south of Lake Lanao.

Smoke billows past minarets after an aerial bombing by the Philippine Air Force on militant Islamist positions in Marawi on the southern island of Mindanao on June 27, 2017. Hundreds of militants, flying the flag of the Islamic State group and backed by foreign fighters, seized swathes of Marawi in the southern region of Mindanao last month, sparking bloody street battles and raising regional concern. AFP
Col. Jo-Ar Herrera, spokesman of Task Force Lanao, said the government had strengthened patrols of Lake Lanao, which was being used to transport supplies to the terrorists in the war zone.

As the clashes entered their 35th day, officials said the resources allocated for humanitarian assistance could become exhausted.

Hataman said the regional government allocated P77 million on June 15 for a continuing two-week humanitarian operation for 51,650 families or about 252,000 individual evacuees.

“We have reserved P77 million, since we do have the fund still allotted, but that is supposed to be for the whole region. That can still run two weeks more, and my office also has the Special Purpose Fund of about P30 million to P40 million. I think we are half way through,” Hataman said.

The conflict has already displaced about 380,000 individuals, said ARMM Vice Gov. Haroun Al-Rashid Alonto Lucman, quoting fresh reports from the National Emergency Operation Center (Neoc).

“By any standard, this is a logistical nightmare for the government. The number is simply staggering,” said Lucman, who is concurrent ARMM secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

Lucman said all supply packs of food to evacuees have come from the DSWD Central Office, the bulk of which has been distributed in the Iligan evacuation center.

With martial law declared over Mindanao, the national government has virtually taken back the regional powers it had devolved to the ARMM. But Hataman said he would rather the national government take over in a situation such as the Marawi City siege.

Also on Tuesday, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front said it was willing to join peace initiatives in Marawi City if President Rodrigo Duterte agrees to negotiations with the Maute terrorists.

Following reports that the Maute group was willing to withdraw from Marawi if the MILF intervened to help end the crisis, MILF Vice Chairman Ghadzali Jaafar said they would have to confirm the reports and clear any peace overtures with President Duterte.

“We want very much to help ease the tension in Marawi City. Of course, who does not want to be involved in returning peace to Marawi City so that our people there--our Maranao brothers and sisters can once again live in peace together again for their families,” Jaafar said in a CNN Philippines interview.

Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said “all possibilities are... being considered” even though the official policy is not to negotiate with terrorists.

The MILF, which started as a splinter group of the Moro National Liberation Front, has been engaged in peace talks with the government for the creation of a new autonomous region to replace the ARMM.

The Moro group was also in charge of peace corridors, which aim to hasten rescue and humanitarian operations for civilians still trapped in the Marawi conflict zone.

In the same interview, Jaafar called for the release of Maute hostage Fr. Chito Suganob, who was supposedly offered in exchange for Maute parents Cayamora and Ominta, currently detained at Taguig. With John Paolo Bencito and PNA

Topics: Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao , ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman , Maute group , Abu Sayyaf , terrorists , Marawi City , Muslim mosques
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