On Tuesday May 23rd, a violent gun battle began in Marawi City after government troops raided the hideout of Isnilon Hapilon. Hapilon is the leader of Abu Sayyaf, meaning “bearer of the sword”, a violent jihadist group in the southern Philippines—notorious for attacking civilians and armies alike. (BBC)
The Philippine government and local police have been hot on their tail after the group kidnapped 18 Indonesians and Malaysians, and beheaded two Canadians after the Canadian government refused to pay their ransom. Abu Sayyaf’s activity in recent years has prompted fears of safety and disruption of regional trade, increasing the urgency of national efforts to squash Abu Sayyaf’s attacks. (BBC)
Government efforts quickly escalated Tuesday after discovering Hapilon along with the Maute Group had infiltrated Marawi City, taking over a hospital, abducting several teachers, clergy, and approximately a dozen parishioners. (Head, BBC)
At 10pm later that day, President Duterte declared Martial Law throughout the Mindanao island. Martial law imposes direct military control over normal civilian functions and suspends civil law and civil rights. The state of emergency is set to last the full 60-day period. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla states that the government will use this time to squash the siege in Marawi City and various other threats in Mindanao. (Ranada, Rappler)
Since Tuesday, May 23rd Marawi City has been in a state of war. The following Sunday, Philstar Global reported the death toll neared 100, stating: “Troops found corpses in the streets, including at least eight civilians who appeared to have been executed.” (Philstar) As of June 1st, the government estimated more than 43,733 families or 218,665 individuals fled Marawi, but thousands are still displaced. (Lopez, Davaotoday.com) Our local Philippine team is carefully monitoring the situation to be prepared to respond to any pressing needs of the displaced peoples.
What does this mean for Project AK-47 represented by Just Projects International as it operates in the Philippines?
According to our Just Project International (JPI) local staff, life and work can continue on as normal. Many even feel safer under the martial law, due to strict inspection and heighten security levels.
“An important thing to watch for though is a greater threat towards children-at-risk in highly vulnerable areas where there is a strong presence of insurgents like New People Army (NPA) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). As these groups feel pressure to recruit more children and youth alike during war-time situations” said local JPI manager.
This makes our educational programs even more pertinent to rescue and reshape the conflict region. Thankfully, classes for elementary and high school will start as scheduled on June 5th. Once in school, children will have less motivation to join rebel groups. With tensions continuing to rise in Mindanao its reported that the NPA is planning and preparing for offensive attacks agains the AFP. (teleSUR) That is exactly the situation that puts children at risk for becoming soldiers. JPI local staff is monitoring the situation and will take action as needed.
One JPI staff member reported that he called a school meeting that happened to have coincided with a BIFF combative offense, which prevented our students from participating. Without the meeting, all of the students would have been forced to join the efforts. Education has the power to change children’s lives and communities!
To keep up-to-date on the martial law situation in Mindanao follow our social media platforms.