By LITO RULONA, NITZ ARANCON, Correspondents,
and MINDANEWS .
CLOSE to 12,000 people have fled their homes in Lanao del Sur as the military stepped up its offensive against the Islamic State-inspired Maute group militants.
As of Wednesday noon, the number of evacuees reached 2,325 families or 11,605 individuals from the towns of Tubaran and Pagayawan, a report from the Provincial Risk Reduction and Management Office showed.
Most of the evacuees (1,011 families or 6,550 individuals) came from 11 barangays in Tubaran, and the rest (1,314 families or 5,055 individuals) from five barangays in Pagayawan affected by the hostilities.
Close to 9,000 evacuees are home-based or living with their relatives, the report added.
Cagayan de Oro City Police Office spokesmanSupt. Mardy Hortillosa II however said law enforcers here were not taking chances and would continue to be on guard, noting that the city is a gateway to many areas in Mindanao.
Hortillosa said the police has been stepping up security measures with the help of communities, and has started coordinating with other government offices.
He said the police is committed at keeping Cagayan de Oro a safe place to live in and for travelers.
On Wednesday afternoon, the top official of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (Nica) here told reporters he doubts if the violence in Lanao del Sur would ecalate and spill over to Cagayan de Oro and other areas in Region 10.
Manuel Orduña downplayed the Lanao del Sur situation, saying the military was merely dealing with “remnants” of the Maute group that escaped from predominantly Muslim city of Marawi last year.
“They are very small group,” said Orduña, adding that its weakness is the lack of public support for its cause.
“In fact, even in Iligan, they have no mass support. And Maranaos are angry at them,” Orduña said.
He added: “It’s just a normal military and police operation.”
But Orduña said the threat of terrorist attacks remains, the reason why the government alert level in the city has remained at “3,” similar to last year’s.
“The threat is a continuing one, and we are implementing the highest level of security,” he said.
On Monday, Col. Romeo Brawner Jr., Joint Task Force Ranao deputy commander, said the military was still trying to verify reports that five members of the group led by by Owayda Benito Marohombsar a.k.a. Abu Dar have been killed.
He assured the hostilities “will not extend beyond the mountainous areas of Tubaran and Pagayawan.”
Lanao del Sur Gov. Bedjoria Soraya Alonto-Adiong said the fighting escalated on Sunday after the barangay chair of Madaganding, Tubaran was shot dead for refusing to allow the militants to enter the area shortly after the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections.
Adiong asked the people “to remain calm and alert, and to pray for everyone’s safety.”
She added: “We also want to assure everyone that the provincial government is doing everything to provide relief and all other needs of all affected and IDPs (internally displaced persons).”
“We are asking the security sector to do all proportionate means to ensure the safety of the public and the preservation of their properties.. We hope and pray for this armed conflict not to escalate to other nearby municipalities.”
Brawner said the firefight in Tubaran on Sunday was “part of the fulfillment of the promise of the AFP to go after the remnants of the Maute-Isis group.”
Brawner was referring to the group that attacked Marawi City on May 23 last year and engaged government forces in a give-month siege that destroyed the city’s main commercial area.”
“This was the result of months-long intelligence operations as well as the cooperation of the local government and the citizens,” Brawner said. (mindanews)