SOMETHING remarkable happened in war-torn Marawi City last Sunday – the dramatic rescue of at least 134 civilians trapped in fighting between government forces and terrorists belonging to the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups.
The rescue was made possible by a “peace corridor,” a 70-kilometer route out of Marawi City through which evacuees and humanitarian aid could pass relatively unharmed.
The route passes through various municipalities in Lanao del Sur province: Marantao, Balindong, Tugaya, Bacolod Kalawi, Madalum, Madamba, Ganassi, Pualas, Calanogas, and finally Malabang, considered the oldest settlement in Mindanao.
The peace corridor is an example of the “bayanihan” (cooperation) spirit at work.
President Rodrigo Duterte, who declared martial law on the entire island of Mindanao last May 23 following the Maute-led attack on Marawi, approved the setting up of a peace corridor to hasten rescue and humanitarian operations for trapped civilians.
This was the result of a meeting between Duterte and the leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) led by its chairman, Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, in Davao City last May 29.
The MILF should be commended for agreeing to deploy its men to join the rescue effort and help secure the long, treacherous route from the Islamic State-linked Maute and Abu Sayyaf bandits. Also, the government panel in peace talks with the MILF, particularly implementing panel chief Irene Santiago, is to be commended for marshalling the novel effort.
The peace corridor was put to work last Sunday, with the military ordering a four-hour lull in fighting, from 8 a.m. to 12 noon, to allow rescued civilians to pass. In a statement, military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said: “This might entail some operational risks to the security forces as the Maute-ISIS Group is also being accorded some sort of a reprieve during the lull. But these initiatives are necessary and called for to allow safe passage to the residents adversely affected by the terrorist affront to our security and sovereignty.”
By all means, the rescue of 134 souls is an unqualified humanitarian victory, which would not have been possible without a sense of patriotic collaboration.
Santiago, who oversaw the humanitarian operation, was “tired but happy” as she summed it up on a Facebook post last June 4: “It was a highly tense half-day until we got some trapped civilians out and our MILF rescue teams returned. No mishaps, thank God. The peace corridor enabled 134 people to come out safely.”
The military would do well to put its millions in intelligence funds to good use and determine the strategic timing of the reactivation of the peace corridor in and out of Marawi City.
The peace corridor is a model of cooperation between people of different beliefs or political stripes, and should be put to use provided conditions on the ground permit it, and for as long as civilians remain trapped in Marawi.