Bishop: Marawi siege survivors need debriefing

Bishop: Marawi siege survivors need debriefing
Marawi Bishop Edwin dela Peña said he believes the military was caught flat-footed when the Maute and Abu Sayyaf launched their attack on that fateful day, May 23.  He added the Maute simply moved from Butig to Marawi City after a series of encounters with government troops late last year. MELO ACUÑA

MANILA – Even as Marawi Bishop Edwin Angot dela Peña welcomes government plans to rebuild the city of Marawi, he believes it is imperative that survivors get debriefed following the trauma they are experiencing because of the ongoing clash between members of the Maute rebel group and government troops.

“We cannot just simply talk of rebuilding structures but rebuilding the persons affected because of the disruptions in their lives,” he explained. Professional psychological help is needed, stressed dela Peña.

While the prelate welcomes the government’s pronouncements of rehabilitating the city, he believes it will not be easy because evacuees who moved to temporary shelters have been deeply traumatized by the violence and may opt not to return .

‘Collateral damage’

“It would be more painful to return to Marawi City when you have no more home to return to, as what’s been left are ashes and rubble,” said dela Peña. His residence was burned on the night of May 23 while the cathedral was desecrated and eventually torched three days later.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said residential and commercial areas east of Agus River have been damaged by continued skirmishes and recently, government authorities recovered decomposed bodies and body parts from the city.

Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Brig. General Restituto Padilla, in an SMS message to this writer this afternoon said 379 Maute and Abu Sayyaf men, 87 government troopers, and 39 civilians have perished since May 23. Thousands have since fled their homes to seek refuge in government shelters and relatives’ homes in Iligan City and in other parts of Mindanao.

In an interview with the 63-year-old prelate at the sidelines of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines 115th Plenary Assembly, he said he is much concerned about the safety of the Christian hostages abducted from the cathedral compound and other parts of the city by the ISIS-inspired Maute group, saying it is possible that they will end up “collateral damage” in the continuing conflict.

Living in peace

He recalled that after the military flushed out members of the Maute group from Butig, Lanao del Sur December last year, local residents noticed unfamiliar persons in their neighborhood.

“The Maute and their cohorts simply moved to Marawi City from Butig town,” he said. Land travel from Butig to Marawi City is two hours along the Lanao Circumferential Road.

Dela Peña said Moslems and Christians lived in peace before the Marawi siege. He described the Mautes as fundamentalists and extremists bent on cleansing the city of non-believers and punishing Moslems who do not adhere to their level of radicalism.

“We are a minority in Marawi City and Lanao del Sur province, but we never felt in danger because we lived and worked with Moslems,” he said. However, these days, the Christians and Catholics in the area are concerned over the presence of extremists and terrorists.

Risky situation

Dela Peña recalled he was preparing to travel to Marawi City from his parish, some two and a half hours by land that fateful Tuesday, May 23, when he received a call from his vicar general Fr. Teresito “Chito” Suganob suggesting he forego his travel due to heavy fire fighting near the cathedral compound.

“I told them to be very careful because the armed group may attack the cathedral, but I was told a number of heavily armed men were already posted at the gates,” said the prelate.

In a report shared with the media, ICRC said the security situation in the provincial capitol poses risks for evacuees and civilians, including volunteers and aid workers.

According to reports, there are still 200 to 300 civilians trapped inside Marawi City. CBCPNews