AFP: No military clearance for evacuees to return to Marawi

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(File photo) AFP Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 16) — Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said the military has not yet given the go-signal for evacuees to return to their homes in Marawi City.

"The main battle areas are still full of possible unexploded ordinance and other IEDs (improvised explosive devices) that may have been laid out by the enemy in the last few weeks," Padilla told CNN Philippines' Newsroom Weekend on July 15.

"These are things that are potentially very dangerous for a returning resident and, hence, the only time that we can seriously say that everyone can return is when we are very sure that all of these things have been taken out," he added.

 

Padilla's statement comes amid reports of Marawi residents appealing to the government to allow them to return to their homes.

Padilla added that the 10-to-15-day deadline that President Rodrigo Duterte gave on July 11 for the conflict's end is "doable at the moment."

Read: Duterte sees Marawi crisis ending in 10-15 days

The President has yet to set foot in Marawi, seven weeks after government forces clashed with members of ISIS-linked Maute Group on May 23.

"We have actually been engaging them at very short distances," Padilla said. "So it won't be far that we get into their strongholds and effect a decisive engagement with them. We're trying to force them to do that in order to secure the inner areas of the other remaining barangays."

As of posting, 93 government troops, 45 civilians, and 399 enemies have been killed. Fifteen buildings have also been cleared.

The number of rescued civilians has reached 1,723, and 502 firearms have been recovered.

Dying evacuees

Appeals to return home also come amid a rising death toll among Marawi evacuees.

The Marawi Provincial Crisis Management Committee said on July 14 that 33 internally displaced residents have already died in evacuation centers since the conflict began on May 23.

Read: 33 evacuees died since Marawi crisis

Usual complications in evacuation centers include skin diseases, pneumonia and hypertension, which can be compounded by unsanitary and crowded conditions.

Saguiaran Evacuation Site Camp Manager Norhana Batua-an said the evacuation setup made the children vulnerable to diseases.

"We don't deny na makakakuha po sila ng sakit dito," she said. "Alam po natin na ang covered court is open area, so yung may mga sanggol nahahagilap nila yung hangin. At yung mga batang bagong panganak basta maraming virus na nakukuha. So yung mga iba may sakit din so nagkakahawahan na sila."

[Translation: We don't deny that the evacuees can get sick here. The covered court is an open area. Newborns are exposed to a lot of virus. Others get infected from those who are already sick.]

Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial told CNN Philippines' The Source on June 30 that cough colds and diarrhea are other sicknesses in crowded evacuation centers.

"Since the start of the siege, Marawi siege, we have distributed jerry cans and chlorine tablets so that all water sources will be disinfected before drinking," she said. "However, there are still residents that continue to like drink from the lake, from unsafe sources. So we keep on repeating the messages that all water sources should be disinfected."

Ubial also said the government is providing free medical services to evacuees.

"Round-the-clock, we provide 24/7 access to hospitals and transport services, if they need it," she said. "(At) 1,000 or more evacuation centers, we have health workers working from 8-to-5, attending to the consultation needs of the patients. And all medicines and even referrals to the hospitals, all in-patient care is free."

Marawi rehab starts August

On July 14, the government announced that the rehabilitation of Marawi is slated to start in August 2017, with around P5 billion set aside for the last five months of 2017.

Read: Gov't bares funding source for Marawi 'multi-year' rehabilitation

Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said the bulk of that amount will come from the budget of the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC). He added the government could also tap into the foreign grants and donations from several countries.

Diokno also said the P10 billion budget for the rehabilitation in 2018 has already been set aside, Diokno said.

"Next year, the NDRRM fund will have a ₱25.5 billion allocation for 2018, of which ₱10 billion is set aside for Marawi," he said.

Task Force Bangon Marawi, created by Duterte through Administrative Order No. 3, will handle the recovery, reconstruction, and rehabilitation of Marawi and nearby towns affected by the clashes between the ISIS-linked Maute and government forces.