THE Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said on Wednesday arming civilians in Mindanao to fight terrorists would do more harm than good, a day after the President raised the specter of civil war in the restive island.
AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr. said arming civilians could exacerbate the ongoing fighting in Marawi City, which entered its 30th day on Wednesday.
“Some civilians have requested to be allowed to arm themselves against the armed groups there in Marawi. But we cannot allow that as this may do more harm than good,” Padilla told reporters.
“You have duly armed elements of the government. These are the Armed Forces, police and other security sector partners. If we go beyond that, it will be more chaotic,” he added.
Speaking to wounded soldiers in Cagayan de Oro City on Tuesday, the President warned that should the violence unleashed by the Maute terrorists in Marawi spill over to other parts of Mindanao, Christians could decide to arm themselves and a civil war could ensue between Christians and Muslims.
“That would be a mess because the Christians in Mindanao will also arm themselves. We cannot allow that because if civilians also arm themselves, it will be a civil war,” he said.
President Duterte on May 23 declared martial law in the entire Mindanao after Islamic State (IS)-linked Maute terrorists attacked Marawi City.
The death toll from the Marawi siege rose to 360 as of 12 noon on June 20: 26 civilians, 268 extremists, and 66 government troops, according to a government report.
State forces were able to recover 271 firearms and clear 16 buildings in Marawi City.
On Tuesday, Duterte also warned that the IS could launch “retaliatory” attacks after many of their members were killed in the military offensives in Marawi City.
“And the retaliatory moves of the ISIS, better keep watch. I’m not saying that it’s happening, but it will happen in the near future because of the inroads of ISIS into Mindanao,” he said, using another name for IS.
The President also warned of the possible spillover of IS-linked terrorist groups outside Marawi City.
“Whether you like it or not, the sentiments of a spillover there. And they are escaping in all directions in Davao. So you have to keep watch and control the movements…Just because the fighting has stopped in Marawi, it does not mean that we are already safe,” Duterte said.
But the President said government troops were capable of dealing with the IS problem.
“Let the Armed Forces and the police deal with the problem. I know that they’re capable of doing it,” Duterte said.
More than 2,000 refugees sent to hospitals
Also on Wednesday, Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Rosell-Ubial said 2,351 people displaced by the conflict in Marawi City have been given medical attention in hospitals in Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte.
“The present living conditions of the IDPs (internally displaced persons) expose them to respiratory, gastrointestinal, and other illnesses or diseases of outbreak potentials,” said Ubial in a statement.
The Health department said 368 people remain confined in hospitals, while 1,362 received outpatient treatment.
The department has also validated and verified 24 deaths in hospitals where the patients had been referred to, mostly for pre-existing ailments such as cancer as well as respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses. A baby born prematurely also died.
Ubial said health teams continue to address concerns in evacuation camps through interventions such as administering flu and pneumonia vaccines to the elderly and measles vaccines to children less than five years old; providing chlorine tablets to disinfect water, jerry cans for water storage, and pit latrines and portable toilets to prevent open defecation; encouraging early referrals for women in the third trimester of their pregnancy; and giving psychosocial therapy to children.
The Health department has a Unified Command Center in Iligan City housing personnel from Northern Mindanao and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
“The command center shall continuously consolidate reports and deploy public health and composite teams to ensure that health services are provided to the IDPs,” Ubial said.
with KENNETH HERNANDEZ