'Use martial law to fast-track return of Marawi evacuees'

MANILA, Philippines – Maranao local officials said the extension of martial law in Mindanao should not be a reason to further delay the return of Marawi residents to their homes. (READ: Congress extends martial law to December 31

In a statement on Saturday, July 22, the Provincial Crisis Management Committee of Lanao Del Sur issued a statement warning against losing the support of local people in Marawi. 

"We must not continue to relegate the sufferings of our IDPs as mere secondary concern only next to our security efforts so as to avoid isolating them further and unwittingly serving the propaganda of these terror groups to attract a much larger audience," committee spokesperson Zia Alonto Adiong said in a statement.

Adiong called for a "paradigm shift" in military operations in Marawi City, saying the powers of martial law should focus on accelerating its rehabilitation plan for the city. 

"We pray that this will accelerate the rehabilitation plan for Marawi City and Lanao del Sur if only we want to downplay people's fears and apprehension over the extension of martial law," Adiong said.

The military said clashes with homegrown terrorist groups are now confined to only 3 barangays in Marawi City – Banggolo, Marinaut, and Raya Madaya. Residents have been pressing the military to allow the residents to return to areas that have long been under the control of the military.

Lieutenant Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera, the spokesman of the military in Marawi, assured the public that rule of law will prevail and the military will continue its close coordination with local officials.

But he sought understanding from Marawi residents because they cannot be allowed back to their homes soon. He said they will continue to hold dialogue with the residents about this.

Herrera said there are ongoing clearing operations even in areas long controlled by the military. He said they still recover improvised explosive devices and war materiel, and that stray bullets remain a threat, too.

"Ang gusto namin sabihin sa mamayan sa Mindanao, huwag silang matakot dahil ang mga sundalo ay professional. Lahat ng action ay anchored sa rule of law. We respect the rights ng ating kababayan. Magpapatuloy na susunduin ang humanitarian law," Herrera said on Saturday. 

(We want to tell the people of Mindanao that they should not be afraid of the extension of martial law. Our soldiers are professional. Our actions are anchored on the rule of law. We respect the rights of the citizens and we will continue to follow humanitarian law.)

Herrera refused to comment on claims by Marawi resident Samira Gutoc Tomawis, former member of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, on alleged human rights violations of the military in Marawi when she delivered a statement before the joint session of Congress on the martial law extension on Saturday. (READ: Marawi resident makes emotional plea vs martial law abuses)

The clashes have killed over 500 including 105 soldiers and 45 civilians. (READ: 100th soldier killed in Marawi day after gov't takes key bridge– Rappler.com