The scene is like that of a war movie.
Roads going out of Marawi City and nearby Lanao del Sur towns are full of people and vehicles, filling the streets of nearby Iligan City. Thousands are walking, carrying whatever they can. Military helicopters hover above.
Cars are bumper-to-bumper as hundreds also head to Cagayan de Oro City, an hour and a half away from Lanao del Norte province’s main urban center.
On Thursday, Lanao del Norte Gov. Imelda Dimaporo, with Rep. Abdullah Dimaporo, convened the Provincial Peace and Order Council attended by mayors, provincial officials and heads of government offices.
“We are all supportive of the declaration of martial law in Mindanao,” Nunungan Mayor Marcos Mamay told The Manila Times in a phone interview. His town is closest to Marawi City, divided only by the Pantar forest.
Mamay said he had asked the 2nd Mechanized Brigade in Maria Cristina, Iligan City for the deployment of troops to all possible entry points the rebels might use in fleeing military artillery in the troubled southern Islamic city.
As of press time, fighting in Marawi was ongoing, according to him. At noontime Thursday, there was an exchange of fire between the Maute group rebel forces and the military where two civilians were wounded. At around 3 p.m., military helicopters dropped bombs at the madrasa (Islamic school) where the rebels are holed, with no immediate report of casualties.
Mamay said the consensus among Lanao del Norte officials of what’s going on in Marawi is that it is both a religious and political conflict. He downplayed the supposed involvement of the Islamic State (IS).
“Honestly, the involvement of the [IS] is far from a possibility. The likelihood is that Shias (a faction of Islam, prominently practiced in Iran) want to strengthen their presence in Marawi (considered the seat of Islam in the Philippines),” the Nunungan mayor told The Manila Times.
Filipino Muslims are known followers of the Sunni faction of Islam.
“We didn’t know they were among us during the gathering of Islam missionaries, the 2017 World Estima held in Marawi that ended on Saturday (May 20). They were dressed just like the rest of us and delegates from Pakistan, India and other countries,” Mamay said.
It was after the event that the armed rebels started occupying strategic spots of the city, which turned into a violent takeover and forced President Rodrigo Duterte to cut short his official visit to Russia.
Mamay claimed the Shias wanted to seize power, and resorted to violence.
Although the government has said that the situation was under control, Marawi and Lanao del Sur residents continue to flee and seek refuge in other towns and cities.
It was a repeat of last year’s siege of the town of Butig, Lanao del Sur, also caused by the Maute group.