Bishop Edwin de la Peña comes out against the government, which wants to extend the state of emergency and martial law. For the bishop, the latter was needed at the beginning, but now it is no longer necessary. In all, more than 465,000 people have been evacuated. The Church is playing a leading role in providing humanitarian aid. Caritas set aside another 200,000 dollars.
Manila (AsiaNews) – The bishop of Marawi, a city on the island of Mindanao in southern Philippines, is opposed to the government’s plan to extend martial law in the area. Since May 23, the city has been the scene of heavy fighting.
In a statement, Mgr Edwin de la Peña said that the 60-day military rule to meet the emergency was a necessity, but now extending it is not only no longer required but it could be harmful. The government can already deal with the situation.
“I am against martial law extension,” de la Peña said. “The first martial law declaration was fine but if they are going to use Marawi again to justify its extension, I don’t think it’s right.”
Since late May, the Maute terrorist group is holed up in the predominantly Muslim city. According to recent government estimates, fighting between government forces and militias has forced more than 465,000 people (or 102,000 families) to flee, resulting in a major humanitarian emergency.
Almost 5,000 families found shelter in 85 different reception centres, in Iligan and nearby cities. But many refugees were able to stay with friends and relatives.
After President Rodrigo Duterte warned of the danger of ethnic-religious tensions, local Muslim leaders distanced themselves from Maute's extremism.
Since the start of the crisis, the Catholic Church has called on people to unite and show solidarity and began providing assistance to the displaced and other victims of the conflict.
Meanwhile, the Filipino air force is continuing its raids against the last Maute holdouts, which appear to be weakening compared to the first phase.
“With all the resources at their command, the government can address the crisis now even without martial law extension,” Mgr Edwin de la Peña said.
However, the president appears increasingly set on extending it until 31 December. Congress will convene a special session this Saturday, 22 July, to tackle the matter.
For its part, the National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA), also known as Caritas Philippines, allocated another 10 million pesos (nearly US$ 200,000) to meet the needs of people displaced by the violence.
The money will be given to the group – which includes nuns and lay volunteers from the diocese of Iligan – set up for the emergency. It will cover the basic needs of 3,000 families, or 15,000 people, such as halal food and hygiene kits.
NASSA executive secretary Fr Edwin Gariguez said that assistance will include psychological support and some training. (DS)