MARAWI, Philippines – There was food and water— welcome commodities amid the frequent tears. There was, finally, safety, at least for the moment. And there were stories — stories of things that mothers and fathers hope never happen to their families.
At an evacuation center outside the besieged Philippine city of Marawi on Wednesday, the results of a week of misery — a week of violence and uncertainty and long nights and promises of better tomorrows — were evident in the faces and hearts of the displaced.
“When you’re desperate, you will do everything to survive,” said Zia Alonto Adiong, a regional lawmaker who welcomed dozens of people, including children, who fled to safety after more than a week trapped inside Marawi.
About 130 people have been killed in the violence, which erupted last Tuesday after soldiers launched a raid to capture militant leader Isnilon Hapilon, who has been designated leader of the Islamic State group’s Southeast Asia branch.
But the operation went awry and Hapilon got away. Fighters loyal to him surprised government forces with their firepower, fending off air strikes and house-to-house searches.
The unrest has boosted fears that the Islamic State group’s violent ideology is gaining a foothold in the country’s restive southern islands, where a Muslim separatist rebellion has raged for decades.