Thursday, May 25, 2017

Marawi siege: Maute militants reportedly holding priest, civilians hostage

An armoured personnel carrier belonging to government troops drives along a main highway of Pantar town, Lanao Del Norte, as it travels to reinforce Marawi city on May 24, 2017. Source: Reuters/Romeo Ranoco
24th May 2017

OFFICIALS in the Philippines are verifying reports claiming a Catholic priest and several parishioners have been taken captive by members of the Islamic State-linked Maute militant group.
The information came from Marawi Bishop Edwin de la Pena, who claimed to have received a call on Tuesday night from one of the captors who introduced himself as “a member of the ISIS”.
During the call, the militant demanded a unilateral ceasefire in Marawi city, Mindanao, between security forces and the group’s members, or the hostages would be killed, the prelate said.
“They want a ceasefire and for the military to give them access out of Marawi. Otherwise, they will kill the hostages,” De la Pena was quoted saying in CBCP News, the official news website of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.
He said the call was placed just before 8pm via his secretary’s phone, who is said to be one of the hostages. It is not immediately known how many hostages were taken although an ABS-CBN News report says apart from the priest, at least 13 others were taken.
The Maute group reportedly forced their way into the Cathedral of Our Lady Help of Christians and abducted Father Chito Suganob, vicar-general of the prelature of Marawi, the parish secretary, two students and 10 other parishioners. They later torched the cathedral.
De la Pena said the Maute militant allowed him to speak to Suganob to make sure he was clear of their demands.
The Maute militant allowed De la Pena to speak to Suganob (pictured) to make sure he was clear of their demands. Source: Facebook
According to local media, however, Philippine authorities have yet to confirm the abductions.
The Philippine Star said since martial law was declared in Mindanao, conflicting statements and reports of the situation in Marawi City had emerged.
The daily quoted Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana as claiming the Marawi city hall was burned during the siege, but Marawi mayor Majul Usman Gandamra denied this.
ISIS destroying Marawi City the Muslims area. ISIS and Maute Group aren't Muslims and Islamic Religion
"Marawi is not okay! We are being burned down!" -
Photo published for #PrayforMarawi trends on social media
The mayor also did not confirm reports on the abductions.
ABS-CBN News in its report said local authorities were still in the process of verifying the claims.
Philippine authorities, responding to concerns over the declaration of martial law in Mindanao, insist the move was necessary.
In a statement published by Inquirer, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said, “In order to suppress lawless violence and rebellion and for public safety, it is necessary to declare Martial Law in the entire island of Mindanao including Sulu, Jolo and Tawi-Tawi for a maximum of 60 days.
“The Philippine government is in full control, and fully aware the Maute Group/ISIS groups have the capability (although limited) to disturb the peace. They have shown no hesitation in causing havoc, taking innocent lives and destroying property.”
READ: DFA statement on the declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao | via
State media similarly quoted the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as saying the implementation of martial law would be done in accordance with existing laws and respect for human rights.
“Declaration of martial law does not mean abuse of authority. We will do it in accordance with the existing law and respect for human rights,” public affairs office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo said in a briefing on Wednesday, as quoted by the Philippine News Agency.
He also stressed militants – not law-abiding citizens – are the targets of the martial law.
Chito-Suganob  2017-05-24T060718Z_788032232_RC1F4A6D5350_RTRMADP_3_PHILIPPINES-MILITANTS
A government soldier inspects a motorcycle driver at a checkpoint along a main highway in Pantar town, Lanao del Norte, after residents started to evacuate their hometown of Marawi city, southern Philippines, on May 24, 2017. Source: Reuters/Romeo Ranoco
Earlier, Human Rights Watch (HRW) expressed concern President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of martial law would lead to rights abuses.
“The Filipino people, having suffered martial law under the Marcos dictatorship, fully appreciate the important role played by human rights activists, the legal community, and the independent media in defending rights,” HRW Asia division deputy director Phil Robertson said in a statement.
The Philippines was under martial law for a decade under late dictator Ferdinand Marcos from the early 1970s.
On Tuesday, Duterte, a Mindanao native, cut short his Russia trip and declared martial law in Mindanao following clashes between the Maute group and government forces. The clash started on Tuesday at Barangat Basak, Malutlut, when local forces learnt of the presence of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon. The IS-linked Abu Sayyaf group is responsible for piracy and kidnap-for-ransom activities in the waters bordering the Philippines and Malaysia.
Reports say at least two soldiers and a policeman have been killed while 12 were injured during the standoff in Muslim-majority Malawi. Images of IS flags being hoisted across the city have also made its way on social media, sparking the #PrayForMarawi hashtag.