For Besieged Marawi Residents, A Brief Respite Ends In Gunfire
An eight-hour cease-fire declared by the Philippine military ended abruptly on Sunday. As soon as the "humanitarian pause" reached its designated end, though, Marawi descended back into the gunfire that has pervaded the southern city for more than a month.
"Our troops only consolidated at our strong points," Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez told Manila radio station DZBB, according to Al-Jazeera. "There was no deployment of military assets as security forces maintained an active distance [during the ceasefire]."
The unilateral truce — which was declared partly for Eid al-Fitr, the holiday celebrating the end of the holy month of Ramadan — was "a gesture of our strong commitment and respect to the Muslim world, particularly to the local Muslims of Marawi City," Padilla added.
Marawi, a predominantly Muslim city in a majority-Christian country, has been roiled by bloodshed since jihadi fighters seized parts of the urban center late last month. An alliance of ISIS-aligned militant groups, including the Abu Sayyaf and Maute groups, seized the opportunity presented by a botched attempt to capture extremist leader Isnilon Hapilon on May 23, occupying positions throughout the city.
Now — after more than a month, the deaths of more than 350 people, and the displacement of tens of thousands more — complete control of Marawi remains out of the Philippine military's grasp, and the southern island of Mindanao, where the city resides, remains under martial law.
The news agency AFP notes that Philippine military leaders also fear Hapilon has managed to flee the city under cover of this chaos.
The Philippine military used the brief bit of peace Sunday to rescue some of the civilians still trapped in the city and negotiate with the leaders of the militant groups in Marawi. As Reuters reports, envoys met with Abdullah Maute, "one of two brothers in charge of the Islamist group named after them" — though the wire service says it remains unclear what the two sides discussed.
But over the weekend, they were also preparing for further fighting. On Friday, the Australian government announced it would be lending surveillance planes to the Philippine military's efforts in Marawi and the surrounding regions. Earlier, the U.S. had already done the same.
"It means we are willing and able to help each other to confront common threats," Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told The Australian. "Our relationship with Australia has been growing closer and stronger through the years. This activity, a new one, will make it even more so."
Still, this agreement did little to shake the fears of local residents or the somber mood of Philippine lawmakers as Ramadan draws to a close.
"For centuries, this Islamic tradition [of Eid] has been observed uninterrupted until now," Zia Alonto Adiong, a crisis management committee spokesman, tells the Philippine news service Rappler. "It pains us to see families who can't even share meals together, pray together, and continue observing this Muslim tradition simply because our current state doesn't permit such 'family gathering' to take place."