CHILDREN displaced by the fighting in Marawi City consider members of the terrorist Islamic State as their heroes—and blame the government for its failure to address poverty in the country’s south, the chairman of the Philippine Sports Commission said Thursday.
In a Palace briefing, PSC Chairman William Ramirez recounted how some of the young evacuees who joined the Children’s Games for Peace program in Iligan City last week gave unexpected answers when asked what they wanted to be when they grow up.
“Normally, in a poor community, they might say they want to be teachers, or police,” Ramirez said in Filipino. “But these children wanted to become members of ISIS.”
The ISIS-inspired terrorists, they added, were able to provide their needs that the government could not.
“They said, they give us food, and they give our fathers a salary. The government does not do that,” he added.
At the end of the five-day sports activity, however, officials noted a change in the children’s attitude, with most of them happy to be playing with Christian children of their own age.
“One of them said, coach, I thought we could not trust Christians,” he added.
The armed conflict in Marawi has entered its 65th day as the security forces continued to stage offensives against the Islamic State militants, who overran the city on May 23, aiming to establish a caliphate for Southeast Asian fighters.
President Rodrigo Duterte has extended martial law until the end of the year in a bid to quell rebellion in the south.
Lanao del Sur, where Marawi City is located, is the the poorest province in the country with a 74.3- percent poverty incidence, according to data from the Philippine Statistics Authority in 2015.
Most of the poorest provinces in the Philippines are found in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and the region still has pockets that are in conflict.
A report from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the conflict in Marawi City has displaced 351,168 people, 17,389 of them staying in refugee camps and the rest staying with friends and family.
About 100,000 of the displaced poeple are staying in Iligan City.
The same report said there is a lack of sanitation and drinking water in overcrowded evacuation centers, which has led to a significant rise in the incidence of water-borne diseases and upper respiratory tract infections. The need for shelter assistance is also a critical concern.
Ramirez raised the alarm to the possible effects of the war in Marawi and urged the government to address the root causes of the tensions in Mindanao, poverty and neglect.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said displaced workers will now have a source of income for their families as the government has set aside P30 million for emergency employment assistance in the areas and cities affected by the armed conflict.
Bello said that through the Tulong Pangkabuhayan sa Ating Disadvantaged, Displaced workers program, DoLE can immediately address displacement, unemployment and loss of income of residents in Marawi and neighboring areas.
The employment assistance, which was allocated by DoLE on the request of Senator Loren Legarda, will benefit 2,292 individuals with a budget amounting to P 30,897,288.53. The project will cover areas of Lanao Del Norte, Iligan and Cagayan De Oro where families from Marawi city had evacuated and took safety.
Workers under the short-term employment program will receive P338 a day.
On Wednesday, soldiers arrested two Abu Sayyaf bandits involved in a series of robberies in Tawi-Tawi Wednesday.
Capt. Jo-Ann Petinglay, spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command, identified the ASG militants as Merson Arak and Ruston, both surnamed Garim, were intercepted by members of the Marine Battalion Landing Team-9.
Petinglay said the arrest of the bandits came after civilians reported the presence of ASG armed with M16 and caliber .30 rifles in Panglima Sugala Tuesday.
The ASG extremists were reportedly behind a series of robberies against fishermen and farmers.
Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, meanwhile, told police to protect the capital from terrorists who might escape from pursuing troops in Marawi City.
“Our government is doing all it can to end the crisis in Marawi but until hostilities have ceased, we should continue to protect our city in any way we can,” he also said. With Francisco Tuyay, Vito Barcelo and Sandy Araneta
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