By Ian Nicolas P. Cigaral

Marawi offensive ponders ‘places of worship’

Posted on June 06, 2017

GOVERNMENT FORCES are studying the possibility of targeting “places of worship” in its offensive in Marawi City against the Maute terrorists, the spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said on Monday, June 5.

Evacuees from Marawi City camp rest at the Saguiaran Townhall in Lanao del Sur on the southern island of Mindanao on June 5, 2017. -- AFP
In his briefing at Malacañang, AFP spokesperson Brigadier-General Restituto F. Padilla, Jr. was asked about the government offensive potentially targeting mosques as well as madrasas (Islamic schools), which have been used as snipers’ nests, according to authorities. Commercial buildings in Marawi have also been reportedly converted into defensive and staging positions.

DZBB reporter Tuesday Niu for her part asked: “Sir, ang sinasabi po natin is nasa mga mosque nagtatago po ngayon ’yung Maute diyan sa Marawi at meron po akong nabasa na news item, quoting AFP Public Affairs Office Chief Colonel Arevalo saying na kapag hindi pa rin sumuko ’yung mga Maute from the mosque na nagtatago ngayon, mapipilitan po ang tropa natin na bombahin na ’yung mga mosque na ’yan. Wala po bang magiging paglabag tayo sa international law ’pag ginawa po ’yan ng ating tropa (Sir, what we’re saying is the Maute are now hiding at the mosques in Marawi, and there’s a news item I read, quoting AFP Public Affairs Office Chief Colonel Arevalo, saying that if the Maute do not turn themselves in at the mosques where they are hiding, our troops will be forced to bomb these mosques. Will there not be a violation of international law when that happens?)?”

Mr. Padilla said in response, “Pinag-aaralan namin mabuti, di ko sasabihing titirahin pero pinagaralan namin mabuti (We’re carefully studying, I’m not saying we’ll attack, but we’re studying carefully).”

Kung sila ay nagpupumilit at manatili doon, may provision dun internationally na pwede silang gamitan ng karahasan (If they insist on staying there, there is an international provision that they can be meted violence).”

Under the Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict with Regulations for the Execution of the Convention 1954, countries are urged to “refrain from any act of hostility, directed against such property.”

But the same accord, which was signed by the Philippines on May 14, 1954, also said that such call may be “waived” only in cases “where military necessity imperatively requires” it.

Mr. Padilla also said in the briefing: “Kaya nga po pasensyoso nating ipinapaabot ang ating panawagan maski mag-mukha na po tayong sirang plaka na sila ay magbaba ng armas at sumuko dahil sa ’yung pagkakataong sinasabi mo ay ayaw nating mangyari (That is why we are patiently relaying our call, even if we sound like a broken record, that they put down their arms and surrender, because that very possibility you cited is something we would not want to happen).”

He explained further in a succeeding interview with reporters later that Monday: “There are provisions may exception ’yun maski sinong taong armado na nagharbor sa isang lugar, maging hospital man ito o places of worship kung sila ay nagpupumilit at manatili doon may provision dun internationally na pwede silang gamitan ng karahasan (There are provisions and exception[s], as to armed individual[s] entrenched in one place, be it a hospital or places of worship, that they can be met with violence).”

Also on Monday, Mr. Padilla said a claim by Indonesia’s defense minister of about 1,200 Islamic State (IS) operatives here “came as a surprise” to Philippine security officials, adding they plan to ask the Indonesian government about the source of the information.

Speaking in a forum in Singapore amid a bloody standoff between Philippine troops and militants fighting under the IS flag in Marawi City, Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu called the militants “killing machines,” adding that there are 1,200 IS operatives among that force.

But Philippine Defense Undersecretary Ricardo David, speaking at the same forum, said the 1,200 figure for total IS fighters in the Philippines mentioned by Indonesia was new to him.

“I really don’t know, my figure is about 250-400, a lot less,” he told reporters.

Mr. Padilla, for his part, said: “in truth, we don’t have those numbers” cited by Mr. Ryacudu.

“So we will reach out, we will inquire, the possible sources of this information and how they may have come across it. Because for all we know, this may prove helpful in our campaign against all these terrorists or these criminals,” he also said.

For his part, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto C. Abella said that while the Palace “cannot comment” on Mr. Ryacudu’s information, it is clear that the crisis in Marawi is being waged by both local and international “criminals.”

“That is one reason why, as the Indonesian Defense Minister pointed out over the weekend, that regional and global anti-crime efforts must be stepped up,” Mr. Abella said. -- with a report from AFP