Terrorists using mosques as safe havens? AFP says it’s avoiding assault on places of worship

June 5, 2017 - 2:21 PM
Marines mosque Marawi City
Marines outside a mosque in Marawi City. (Reuters file)

MANILA – In the realm of possibilities, a military assault on places of worship is allowed by international law if such sites are being used as safe havens by terrorists – a situation reportedly happening in Marawi, where the siege by Maute Group-led forces enters its second week.

Still, according to Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, Armed Forces of the Philippines, spokesperson, the military brass is closely monitoring the situation and avoiding that scenario, as government forces continue to face defiance from extremist groups hiding behind reinforces buildings. Their snipers remain a deadly threat to the state forces, and in fact, two soldiers participating in the humanitarian mission to rescue trapped civilians and retrieve bodies came under fire and were injured during the four-hour ceasefire on Sunday.

Iyan po ay isang bagay na iniiwasan natin, kaya nga patuloy tayong nananawagan na sila ay sumuko at iwasan nila itong mga places of worship. At may kautusan din ang ating chief of staff sa ating ground commander na gawin lahat ng maaring gawin para maiwasan ito [Attacking mosques is something we are avoiding, that’s why we continue to call on them to surrender. And our AFP chief of staff has strict guidance for our ground commander to do everything to avoid that],” said Padilla at Monday’s Mindanao Hour briefing in Malacañang.

Kaya nga po pasensyoso nating ipinapaabot ang ating panawagan maski magmukha na tayong sirang plaka na sila ay magbaba ng armas at sumuko dahil sa yung pagkakataon na sinasabi mo ay ayaw nating mangyari [We patiently – sounding like a broken record – keep asking them to lay down their arms because that situation where we’re forced to fire at places of worship is something we strive mightily to avoid],” he added.

Padilla said they can fall back, in a worst-case scenario, on a provision in international law that grants an exemption to the prohibition on assaults on places of worship, if there is a clear finding such are being used for terrorist activities.

There had been reports that the Maute-led forces were at times using human shields in order to make it harder for soldiers to hit back.

Padilla said the AFP does not want to give the enemy reason to frame the situation as a religious war when it fires on mosques and similar sites.