Residents on top of their jeepney take photos of destroyed buildings during a visit to their homes at the main battle area in Marawi City, in southern island of Mindanao on April 1, 2018. After fleeing for their lives nearly a year ago, residents of the battle-scarred Philippine city of Marawi made their first visit back on April 1 to dig through the rubble that was once their homes.

Ted Aljibe/AFP
Task group: 98 percent of Marawi 'ground zero' cleared of unexploded bombs
Roel Pareño ( - November 14, 2018 - 2:24pm

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines — The military has cleared around 98 percent of Marawi City's Most Affected Area, also called "ground zero", of unexploded ordnance from the five months of intense fighting in the capital of Lanao del Sur province last year.

Brig. Gen. Arnold Fernandez—commander of the Joint Task Group Builders, the unit in charge of the clearing—said most of the unexploded bombs penetrated deep into the ground and could not safely be excavated with heavy equipment. They had to be dug out by hand, he said.

Removing unexploded ordnance,also refrerred to as UXO, has been difficult because of a lack of radar equipment to detect where exactly the bombs are. “And that’s the critical part because it reached more than 10 meters below the ground,” Fernandez said.

The remaining two percent of the MAA that still needs to be cleared has an area of around five hectares, he also said.

Clearing operations have disabled around 70 bombs while around 30 still have to be cleared. He said that 16 of those are 500-pounders, which he said have a blast radius of 600 meters. 

"We can’t say it’s fully clear until we can remove everything,” Fernandez said at the sidelines of a security assessment meeting with Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff, Tuesday night.

He said the unit is not setting a deadline on clearing the MAA but but assured the public that the military is taking all measures to make the area safe as soon as possible. Groundbreaking on rehabilitation of the battle-scarred city was held last month.

The presence of unexploded ordnance and the threat of attacks by stragglers from the Islamic State-inspired Maute Group have hampered rehabilitation efforts and even the return of displaced Marawi residents to home abandoned during the siege.

“What we are doing is to ensure that there are no incidents (of bombs exploding),” Fernandez said.

Debris also a problem

He said the huge pile of debris in the area is another problem they have to deal with.

Fernandez said they have coordinated with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources on the proper disposal of debris to avoid affecting the environment.

In May, ARMM Vice Gov. Haroun Al-Rashid Lucman urged Task Force Bangon Marawi to study the potential impact of dumping the debris for reclamation in Lake Lanao, from which the Meranaw people of the Lanao provinces take their name. 

"We are not antagonistic people. We welcome development plans as long as they are environment-friendly. Lake Lanao is the strongest icon of the Meranaw tribe. The term Meranaw means 'people of the lake' and by that we value so much Lake Lanao," Lucman said then.

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