ILIGAN CITY - A convoy of two passenger vans carrying families from Lanao del Sur added to about a kilometer-long pile of vehicles queuing to enter the city Friday morning through a checkpoint in Barangay Suarez.
According to one driver, there were three vehicles when they left Tamparan town, picking up more family members in Masiu before making the long journey here, almost four times the distance had they passed through Marawi. Some family members, Abdullah said, chose to stay in the homes of other relatives in Lanao del Norte whom they passed along.
Evacuees continue to stream out of Lanao del Sur, not to escape the crossfire but out of fear they would run out of food soon as the crisis enters its third week with no end in sight.
If things go as planned, this situation may soon come to an end as the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) steps up its drive to cleanse Marawi, the province’s capital and main economic center, of Islamic State-inspired militants by Sunday, in time for significant symbolic rites to be held there on June 12.
Maranao leader Samira Gutoc-Tomawis welcomes the military’s hastened effort to clear Marawi of militants even as she and other Maranaos rue having to bear the ire of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Duterte had castigated Maranaos for supposedly tolerating the presence of extremists in their communities.
Tomawis said “celebrating Eid’l Fitr in Marawi is a welcome prospect for all.”
Eid’l Fitr is celebrated to mark the end of Ramadan, slated on June 25 or 26.
During Friday’s Mindanao Hour press briefing in Manila, Brigadier Gen. Restituto Padilla, AFP spokesperson, said they are “feverishly working” on a target of raising the Philippine flag in Marawi City on Monday, the 119th year of Philippine Independence from Spanish colonial control.
Padilla revealed that the resistance put up by the militants have weakened by the day.
On Thursday, government soldiers began a final push to flush the militants out of Marawi, expected to conclude after four days.
Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez, Western Mindanao Command chief, said the remaining strongholds of the militants are the city’s Lilod, Marinaut and Bangolo districts, its main commercial hub.
Galvez said the soonest the military operation is concluded, the better for the city’s more than 200,000 residents who have left their homes as they might be able to return by then.
With Marawi liberated from the militants’ control, food supply to Lanao del Sur’s towns would be free to move, easing food supply worries and expectedly bring down prices.