MORO civil society leaders in Lanao del Sur are calling on government to halt air strikes to prevent wide-scale damage to properties and communities in Marawi City where militants have been entrenched since May 23.

Military jets hovered over Marawi Saturday, the fourth day of the siege that has caused an exodus among thousands of residents into nearby Iligan and Cagayan de Oro cities.

“We are very worried because there are still many residents inside the city. They are either trapped by the gunfight or chose to stay behind,” said Maranao woman leader Samira Gutoc-Tomawis, one of the conveners of the Ranao Rescue Team.

“It is not certain whether the Armed Forces know the exact locations of these remaining civilians in Marawi. That is why we say that the air strikes endanger the civilians,” she added.

Gutoc-Tomawis, who is also a government-nominated member of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC), urged the military to constantly brief the provincial and civil society leaders of Lanao del Sur so that they can feedback what they know of civilian locations and hence factored in the planning of assault targets.

The Armed Forces has send additional troops into Lanao del Sur to help in flushing the militants out of the city which used to be home to more than 200,000 people.

On Friday, humanitarian relief agencies like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were able to enter some parts of the city which were cleared of Islamic State-inspired militants. ICRC delivered food and water supplies as well as evacuated some 300 individuals out of harm’s way.

Also on Friday, some 42 mostly women teachers of the Department of Education’s district in Wao, Lanao del Sur were brought out to safety after being trapped in the fighting for three days. The teachers were having a training in a hotel in Marawi when the fighting between government forces and the militants occurred.

Many of the students and faculty holed up in the Mindanao State University (MSU) Marawi campus have been safely evacuated.

To allow for safe evacuation of the remaining civilians, the Maranao civil society groups wanted the military to consider delineating a “humanitarian space” where trapped civilians can go and be rescued.

The military, Gutoc-Tomawis explained, must ensure not to invite hostile actions from the militants inside or near that humanitarian space to make it safe.

Gutoc-Tomawis also urged President Duterte to order the military to adopt a “no fighting window” within a given day to give time for civilians to get to the designated humanitarian spaces and be evacuated from there.

As the siege prolongs, Gutoc-Tomawis said, the other localities of Lanao del Sur are affected in terms of continued supply of food as much of the towns in the province mainly trade in Marawi.

"Please, let us not spread the crisis. Let us find solutions so that the problem is contained.”