Butig evacuees can’t get relief aid due to clashes
MARAWI CITY—Military operations against the Maute group, whose members have been holding an old town hall in Butig town in Lanao del Sur province since Thursday, have prevented relief goods from reaching residents displaced by the fighting, local officials said.
The roadside blast that wounded seven members of the Presidential Security Group and two soldiers, who were part of a security team preparing for President Duterte’s visit, has complicated the situation, preventing government workers from reaching evacuees, said Director Ramil Masukat of the Humanitarian Emergency Assistance Response Team (HEART) of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Masukat said the members of the first HEART group, who arrived here on Tuesday, could not move the goods to residents yet as their local counterparts have yet to give the clearance to enter the area.
Jenny Tamano, Lanao del Sur provincial information officer, said the number of residents displaced by the conflict in Butig has reached 1,955 families as the conflict entered its fifth day on Tuesday.
On Thursday last week, at least 50 members of the Maute group stormed Butig and took over the old town hall.
Lanao del Sur Gov. Hadja Soraya Alonto-Adiong said residents in the villages Wago, Butig Proper, Pindolunan, Malungun, Raya Timbab and Bayabao have left their communities as government troops continue with ground and air assaults.
The provincial social welfare office initially provided the evacuees with food and other basic needs on their first visit to the area while local relief workers provided rations to displaced residents, Butig Mayor Dimnatang Pansar said.
ARMM Social Welfare Secretary Haroun Alrashid Lucman said nine Butig villages were affected by the fighting.
Lucman said some of those who fled the villages of Sundig, Bayabao and Sandab went to Barangay Raya Miniros in Lumbayanague town.
Others opted to stay with their relatives in other villages and towns not directly affected by the clashes.
Tamano said the provincial government is bent on sustaining relief distribution to affected families while government forces are trying to restore normalcy.
“I hope the situation normalizes soon,” Lucman said.
In Manila, Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo said social workers will watch out for violations of international humanitarian law and human rights in the clash.
She said only 2,000 out of the estimated 12,200 residents who had to flee their homes are staying in designated evacuation centers.
Taguiwalo said every evacuee family had at least two children with them.
“We will continue to coordinate with local authorities to address the immediate needs of the evacuees and protect them from further difficulties,” she said.
“We are also well aware of issues on international humanitarian law and human rights, so we shall monitor any incidents that can be construed as violations as we monitor the plight of the evacuees,” Taguiwalo added.
Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., spokesperson of the Zamboanga City-based Western Mindanao Command, said at least 35 members of the Maute group had been killed since Thursday.
But Marine Col. Edgard Arevalo, Armed Forces of the Philippines public affairs chief, said their reports indicated that more than 40 members of the Maute group have been killed in the ongoing military offensive.
He said 20 soldiers were wounded since the military operations began on Saturday.
“We hope to neutralize this Maute group but we are careful in our operation,” Tan said. “We make sure that we do not suffer more casualties.”
He said the military has taken control of some areas of the town, but he did not specify any location. Tan said around 300 Maute members are still “in the vicinity of the town.”
“Our troops are positioned in strategic locations,” he said. —RICHEL UMEL, JULIE ALIPALA, NASH MAULANA, EDWIN FERNANDEZ, DONA Z. PAZZIBUGAN AND JEROME ANING
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