• 6,400 evacuees return to war-torn Marawi

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    At least 6,400 evacuees from nine barangay (villages) have returned to their homes in war-torn Marawi City, Assistant Secretary Kristoffer Purisima of the Office of the Civil Defense said Friday.

    Purisima said the 6,462 evacuees would all be home by November 4, Saturday, with their basic needs provided by the government.

    BACK HOME Evacuees return to Marawi City aboard service vehicles of the Department of Public Works and Highways. Malacañang said an initial 6,462 evacuees would be home by today. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

    “The return of IDPs (internally displaced persons) in nine identified barangay in Marawi City will be completed tomorrow. Utilities such as water and electricity, and health services are already accessible in the identified barangay,” Purisima said in a news conference.

    To check if returning IDPs are legitimate Marawi City residents, identification cards were issued by the respective barangay based on the rolls of census and voters’ registration, he said.

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    “This is very important because this verification is for their safety, and the role of the local government units and barangay is crucial here because they know their community well,” Purisima added.

    P5,000 worth of cash assistance, on top and relief goods consisting of rice and food packs good for 17 days, as well as hygiene kits and kitchen kits were also distributed by the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the Marawi City local government to the returning residents.

    “Rolling stores and markets will be established to provide basic needs, while means of transportation within the areas will also be made available to provide mobility,” Purisima added.

    Purisima, however, admitted that it would take time for things to go back to normal considering that only evacuees from nine out of 96 villages in Marawi City were able to return home.

    “We are still coordinating with the local government units for the return of the rest of the evacuees because they know their constituents more. We are evaluating, and we will come up with a timeline once our assessment is done,” Purisima said.

    Purisima did not specify the amount needed for the rehabilitation of Marawi City but said 49 out of the 96 villages have been assessed for loss and damages.

    “We are yet to release figures because we want the amount to be in total before we make announcements, meaning, we will wait for the results of the assessment for the remaining barangay,” Purisima said.

    “That’s our methodology. We don’t want to release partial results so as not to distort our data and our data will be better appreciated by the public,” he added.

    On May 23, the Maute terrorist group attacked Marawi, the country’s Islamic capital, forcing President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law in the entire Mindanao, which was later extended to December 31 by Congress.

    President Duterte declared Marawi City liberated from terrorists on October 17, a day after terrorist leaders Omarkhayam Maute and Isnilon Hapilon were killed by government forces.

    The Marawi conflict ended after 154 days of intense fighting, leaving over a hundred soldiers, at least 47 civilians and about 800 terrorists dead, as well as 500,000 people displaced.

    ‘No premature declaration’

    Following the death of some Maute “stragglers,” military spokesman Maj. Gen. Resitituto Padilla dismissed concerns that the President’s declaration that Marawi was free from terrorists may have been premature.

    “The declaration [of Marawi liberation]is not premature. These stragglers have no bearing. They are leaderless, directionless, fighting for survival. They won’t impact the overall security of the place,” Padilla told a press briefing in Malacañang.

    Padilla issued the statement following the arrest on November 1 of Muhammad Ilham Syahputra, identified as an Indonesian terrorist. He was charged with rebellion on Thursday after inquest proceedings at the Quezon City Prosecutor’s Office.

    Padilla said, however, that the stragglers remained dangerous.

    “Of course, there are still restrictions in the area because these stragglers are waiting to escape. They still have the potential to inflict harm to the public,” Padilla said.

    Padilla said that the remnants of the Maute group were managing to survive because they were holed up in the basement and tunnels of buildings peppered with booby traps and explosives taken from the main battle area.

    “That’s why we are taking pains on this. We don’t want any of them escaping and exacting revenge on other areas,” Padilla said.

    National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said that he was in favor of keeping martial law in Mindanao until the end of 2017, citing the presence of radicals and terrorist groups like the Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Mindanao.

    Dead or alive?

    Government forces are still tracking down Amin Bacu, a Malaysian terrorist who fought alongside the Maute group in Marawi City, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said on Friday.

    Col. Romeo Brawner Jr., deputy commander of Task Group Ranao, said the location of Bacu’s remains had yet to be determined by ground forces and commanders in Marawi’s main battle area.

    When Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and former AFP chief Eduardo Año announced the termination of combat operations in Marawi City in October, the officials said Bacu had been killed.

    Lorenzana had said that among the 42 cadavers taken by the military in Marawi City was Bacu’s.
    On Friday, however, Brawner said Bacu’s remains had yet to be retrieved.

    “We are still [checking]if Amin Bacu is either dead or alive. He is a Malaysian national who was part of the [Marawi] siege. We are still looking for his remains,” Brawner told reporters in an interview.

    WITH DEMPSEY REYES

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