Military to observe humanitarian pause

The Philippine Star
Military to observe humanitarian pause

Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera, spokesman of Joint Task Force Marawi, said the “humanitarian ceasefire” will start at 6 a.m. today and will run for eight hours, until 2 p.m. AFP, File

8-hour ceasefire for Eid’l Fitr

MANILA, Philippines - The military will observe an eight-hour pause today in combat operations against Maute extremists in Marawi City in observance of the Islamic religious feast of Eid’l Fitr.

Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera, spokesman of Joint Task Force Marawi, said the “humanitarian ceasefire” will start at 6 a.m. today and will run for eight hours, until 2 p.m.

Eid’l Fitr is the culmination of the holy month of Ramadan observed by Muslims worldwide that requires a 30-day, dawn-to-dusk fasting and prayers.

Earlier, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, reacting to calls by Muslim leaders for a halt to military actions today in deference to Eid’l Fitr, said any ceasefire or pause in military actions in Marawi would depend on the recommendation of the ground commanders.

Padilla stressed, however, that in the absence of such recommendation to halt
 combat operations in the city tomorrow, clearing operations would continue without let up to expedite Marawi’s liberation.

Fighting initially broke out in Marawi on May 23, when teams of soldiers and policemen tried to serve an arrest warrant against Basilan-based Abu Sayyaf commander Isnilon Hapilon, said to be designated Emir of the Islamic State (IS) in Southeast Asia, in Barangay Basak Malutlot.

What was expected to be just a short-lived conflict turned into a full-blown war after the Maute-IS terrorists attacked and occupied key parts of Marawi City.

To date, despite the preponderance of military troops, the terrorists are still holding up in at least four of the 96 barangays in the city known as the center of Islamic faith in the country.

And after more than a month of fighting, 290 Maute terrorists, 26 civilians and 69 soldiers have been killed in the continuing conflict.

Meanwhile, the military has yet to establish the identities of foreign-looking individuals whose remains were found among the slain Maute members within the zone of conflict.

“We don’t have the exact information yet on this particular report,” Padilla said, in reference to foreign-looking terrorists who were reportedly killed along with their local Maute counterparts.

Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) commander Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. was quoted in a radio interview yesterday as saying that the bodies of these foreign looking terrorists have been found in the battle area.

He added the bodies would be recovered as soon as possible for proper burial and DNA testing.

Galvez was also quoted as saying that around 10 foreign-looking men were seen by the Maute member captured by soldiers last Friday and they reportedly have direct involvement in the fighting as snipers and in bomb demolition operations.

The Indonesian defense ministry earlier claimed around 1,200 foreign jihadists are operating in the Philippines.

A senior anti-terrorism official, citing their own records, bared that the Indonesian figure of foreign terrorists operating in the country is somewhat bloated.

“Based on our monitoring there are around 300 and not 1,200 of them who are already in the country,” he said.

He added these foreign jihadists are mostly based in various areas of Mindanao, with a handful of them posing as religious preachers, if not legitimate businessmen, in key cities in the country, including Metro Manila.

Eid’l Fitr

In Cotabato City, thousands of moderate Muslims cannot perform Eid’l Fitr rites at the capitol of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) due to a possible attack by outcast Islamic militants.

Neutral Muslims in the city and nearby towns have performed peacefully for decades the yearly Eid’l Fitr sambahayang or congregational prayer at the ARMM parade grounds.

ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman had cancelled the Eid’l Fitr activity in the 32-hectare regional government center in Cotabato City due to mounting threats of sabotage.

Hataman, presiding chairman of ARMM’s inter-agency regional peace and order council, said they cannot put at risk the lives of thousands of worshipers.

“Terrorists have absolute disregard for Islamic teachings on respect for life. They attack people, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, to show capability to harm the hapless and most vulnerable,” Hataman said.

Officials in Lanao del Sur and its provincial capital Marawi are emotional about not having had a solemn Ramadan due to the trouble the Dawlah Islamia instigated.

The siege of Marawi dislocated more than 200,000 villagers.  

The spokesman of the Lanao del Sur provincial crisis management committee, Assemblyman Zia Alonto Adiong of ARMM’s Regional Assembly, said terrorists have robbed them of the chance to observe Ramadan undisturbed as they did in decades past.

“The conflict also stole from us the chance to go out and do Eid’l Fitr outdoor prayer and celebration in our homes. These are very strong centuries-old Maranao traditions,” Adiong said.

Adiong said fasting at daytime in evacuation sites is difficult.

“I heard so many evacuees have no way but forego with an obligation that they have peacefully complied with in years prior. The conviction to abstain from food and drinks during the day is there, so overwhelming, but the condition in evacuation sites are dire and uncooperative,” Adiong lamented.

Even the mayor of Cotabato City, Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi, was forced to ban the evening tours on vehicles of moderate worshipers to chant “allahu akbar” using public address facilities right after the local Darul Iftah (House of Opinions) announces the closure of the Ramadan fasting month.

The restriction is meant to prevent exposing local Muslim folk to dangers when they go out for their so-called nighttime “mobile takbir,” also a decades-old tradition.

Guiani-Sayadi assured residents that her administration, the local police and the anti-terrorism Army-led Joint Task Force Kutawato are in full control, contrary to circulating text messages warning of imminent danger and alleged sightings of terrorists in some barangays.

“As moderate and peace-loving Muslims, we believe that sometimes we need to get hurt for us to rise and bounce back as better Muslims,” Hataman said.

In Iligan City, which is some 35 kilometers from Marawi, residents are bracing themselves as messages warning that “something will happen” tomorrow is spreading via Facebook and text messages.

But they try to go on with their lives and continue to perform their religious obligations.

One resident identified only as Rachel said she and her co-workers had to report for work early because of the kilometer-long queue to pass through the checkpoint in Barangay Suarez where everybody has to present a valid identification card.

“We have become accustomed to it because we commute everyday,” she said. “When will this end?”

Meanwhile, former Marantao, Lanao del Sur mayor Mohammadali Abinal and Maguing mayor Mamaulan Abinal, who were identified by President  Dutere as among the narco-politicians,  asked for a thorough investigation into their respective cases after illegal drugs were found in their residences during a clearing operation by the military, followed by the police. – With Lino dela Cruz


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