ILIGAN CITY -- At least 1,500 families from at least three Lanao del Sur towns have fled their homes following fighting between government forces and Daesh-inspired terrorists which started on Sunday morning, June 17.
The fighting reportedly began at the boundaries of the municipalities of Pagayawan and Tubaran and spread to the town of Marogong.
The Provincial Crisis Management Committee (PCMC) said the three towns are the most affected by the fighting.
Zia Adiong, spokesman of the PCMC, said there are 500 families from nine barangays in Tubaran while 255 families from seven barangays in Pagayawan have fled their homes to seek refuge in the neighboring towns of Binidayan and Bayang.
According to Adiong, there is no official report of the number of displaced families in Marogong yet but some of the more than 700 families who have sought refuge in Binidayan are from the said town while 49 families have fled to Bayang.
"Our PDRRMC (Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council) has been activated to coordinate with the military and to provide all the necessary humanitarian response and assistance," Adiong said.
He said Governor Soraya Adiong has also directed all line agencies, especially the Provincial Social Welfare and Development (PSWD) and the Provincial Health Office (PHO), to mobilize and start checking on the needs of the affected families.
"Availability of all spaces have been monitored for the accommodation of the displaced families. The Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC) has been reconvened to assess and monitor the situation on the ground to avoid spillover of the clashes to other municipalities," he said.
"Pinapabantayan especially ang (mga exits ng) Tubaran kasi hilly, magkakaroon sila (terorista) ng natural defense system," Adiong added.
Meanwhile, Colonel Romeo Brawner, Jr., deputy commander of the Joint Task Force Ranao, said the operation started Friday, June 15, when government troops maneuvered to run after the group of Owayda Benito Marohomsar alias Abu Dar.
Brawner said Marohomsar is in the list of wanted terrorists of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and has a P3-million bounty on his head.
Marohomsar is also said to be the appointed emir (leader) of the Islamic State in Southeast Asia replacing Abu Sayaff leader Isnilon Hapilon who was killed in the five-month war in Marawi last year.
Marohomsar, who hails from Pagayawan town, was reportedly one of the ten leaders who planned the attack in Marawi City. A video footage of their group planning the attack was recovered by the military from the laptop the militants left at Hapilon's apartment in Barangay Bask Malutlut in Marawi at the start of the firefight.
Brawner said, Abu Dar escaped from the main battle ground during the early weeks of the Marawi fighting purposely to get additional troops but was not able to go back to the battle field due to numerous checkpoints.
Marohomsar has reportedly been recruiting members, targeting young ones whose family members died during Marawi siege. The new recruits are said to undergoing training in the mountainous parts of Lanao del Sur and he has been sighted frequently in Tubaran.
"Na-determine kahapon (Sunday) ang location ng grupo (Abu Dar) kaya ginamitan na ng airtsike. Ngayon, on-going ang hot pursuit operation to get him and his group. Wala na munang airstrike kasi nag-disperse sila, hindi kasi magamit ang airstrike kung isa o dalawang tao lang ang target. However, naka-standby ang mga air assets natin at ang ground assault natin ay continue (The location of the group was determined on Sunday, hence the airstrikes. The hot pursuit operations to get Abu Dar and his group are on-going but we have not launched airstrikes because the group has dispersed. But the air assets are on stand-by)," Brawner said.
"Ito ang ipinangako ng AFP to get Abu Dar na nasa Tubaran with around 40 recruit-members all armed (This is what the AFP promised: to get Abu Dar who is in Tuburan with around 40 armed recruit-members)," he added.
The AFP official said they guarantee that tere will be no civilians who will be caught in the cross fire because the aerial bombings are concentrated in the mountainous parts of Lanao del Sur where the terrorists are hiding and there are no residents.
Brawner said there are reports that five members of the Maute-ISIS group have been killed.
"The military is still verifying these reports. We are asking the public to stay calm. The 103rd Infantry Brigade is making sure that the hostilities will not extend beyond the mountainous areas of Tubaran and Pagayawan of Lanao del Sur," Brawner said in a statement sent to the media.