‘Someone has to answer to this’ – Humanitarian mission questions military ‘fake news’ in Mindanao

Soldier on duty at Marawi City. (Photo courtesy of Anto Balleta)
Soldier on duty at Marawi City. (Photo courtesy of Anto Balleta)

The military exerts control not only over the traffic of people but the flow of information, too.

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – As Gabriela Women Rep. Arlene Brosas waited to be allowed past the military checkpoint to Marawi City’s capitol last week, it sunk to her how massive the ongoing Marawi bombardment truly is. She recalled that where their group on the humanitarian mission in Marawi waited for hours, an armored tank hulked over them. Soldiers in full battle gear circled and watched them while their superiors waved other vehicles through the checkpoint.

While soldiers let other vehicles, including those with relief goods, pass through, they were barred. This seemed arbitrary and malicious, said Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate.

What is in Marawi City’s capitol that a humanitarian mission, armed only with relief packs and psycho-social services, must not see or hear first-hand?

Reports showed that the military has full command of the city. They exert control even over the local government. They exert control not only over the traffic of people but the flow of information, too. And that is highly dangerous, the leaders of the humanitarian mission noted.

Cristina Palabay of human rights group Karapatan questioned the information being propagated by the military. She questioned the military report that “so and so number of Maute members” had been killed. Reports as of press time put the number of killed in Marawi at 369, of which three-fourths are “militants,” according to the military.

Palabay said there is a strong possibility, given the military’s penchant for disinformation, that these, too, are fake news. Her suspicion is bolstered by the fact that the military has cordoned off Marawi City, allowing the media only with the military’s supervision.

The initial report from the humanitarian mission held last week in Mindanao also revealed hitherto unreported hardships and human rights violations being suffered by civilians at the hands of government forces, whether directly or indirectly.

Media reports on the Marawi bombardment were often focused on military updates and urgent concerns at the evacuation centers. There were also featured clips at times of soldiers aiding a senior citizen or a trapped Marawi local. But the evacuees‘ accounts sketched a different picture of the military. They told the humanitarian mission that their women were threatened with rape if they didn’t cooperate and leave. They saw family members disappear into their house that exploded afterward; relatives gunned down by the military; others interrogated for hours on suspicion that they were members of the Maute group.

There were questions as to why the Camp Ranao in Marawi, where the US military also keeps a base, responded with artillery shelling when only eight men in black were at the gates, Rev Chris Ablon of Kalinaw Mindanao said. Evacuees said the shelling hurt the neighboring civilians more than those eight presumably Maute men.

L-R: Gabriela Women's Partylist Rep. Arlene Brosas, Bayan Muna Rep.  Carlos Zarate, Rev.  Irma Balaba (Photo by Ian Irving Bazarte/Bulatlat)
L-R: Gabriela Women’s Partylist Rep. Arlene Brosas, Bayan Muna Rep.
Carlos Zarate, Rev.
Irma Balaba (Photo by Ian Irving Bazarte/Bulatlat)

During the press conference on Thursday, June 22, where initial results of the humanitarian mission were shared to the press, Gabriela Rep. Brosas announced the filing in Congress of the Makabayan bloc of House Resolution 1085. It directs the House Committee on Human Rights to investigate the plight of displaced civilians in Marawi City and to look into the rights violations committed by the military.

Rep. Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna said there has to be a clear response in resolving the Marawi crisis. “Dapat may managot dito. Hindi pwedeng sorry na lang,” (Someone has to answer to this. Just saying sorry won’t cut it.) he said.

Opposing martial law, military’s control of information on Mindanao

An uninformed Christian, or an uninformed Filipino, is useless at resolving the Marawi City crisis, IFI priest Rev Chris Ablon said at the press conference.

To gather information that could help the citizens form opinions based on facts, and take action, is one of the goals of the humanitarian mission, Ablon said. They managed to gather lots of accounts from Marawi City evacuees. But they also encountered a lot of blank walls which they urged the Filipinos to help tear down for the truth.

He shared the highlights of the documentation and results of psychosocial services during the three-day humanitarian mission held from June 13 to 16.

These include the following:

• The unprecedented destruction by intense aerial bombing of the only Islamic city in the Philippines;
• the resulting massive evacuation of most of the city’s population and the looming humanitarian crisis;
• the overwhelming sentiment of the people of Marawi against Martial Law and military strikes;
• the military abuses of Martial Law and the trampling on civilian authority and human rights; and
• the need to investigate both the US involvement before and during the Marawi conflict and the real score in the so-called terrorist groups holed up in Marawi.

The June humanitarian mission is just the first, said Jerome Succor Aba, spokesperson of Suara Bangsamoro. He said much need to be learned and shared with the public on the Marawi crisis.

To this day, Isnilon Hapilon, the alleged terrorist being hunted down in Marawi, is still at large. Yet, much of the lovely Marawi City now lay in ruins. Gabriela Rep. Brosas echoed the niggling worries of the women evacuees – that they may no longer have a house and livelihood to return to when the military finally stops their air assault.

People fleeing to safety. Marawi City. (Photo courtesy of  Anto Balleta)
People fleeing to safety. Marawi City. (Photo courtesy of Anto Balleta)

A month into the Marawi siege, a third of a million Filipinos has become internal refugees. “Bombings continue that’s why the people remain afraid,” said Ustadz Alimondas Laut, 43, a resident of Marawi since he was 13.

After the press conference, he quoted a soldier saying “di kaagad makakauwi ang mga evacuees” (the evacuees cannot immediately go back). He told Bulatlat that the reason behind this “slight delay” is that much work needs to be done now to clean up the rubbles of bombardment.

Gabriela Rep. Brosas said the nightmare of the children evacuees, their fears, uncertainties and worries, the trauma of being separated from family members and things familiar, the pain of failing to observe their religious rites, all these will likely haunt their lives. (http://bulatlat.com)

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