Philippines: US extends aid for Marawi recovery, deploys another plane to Mindanao
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Philippines: US extends aid for Marawi recovery, deploys another plane to Mindanao

THE UNITED STATES has allocated PHP730 million (US$14.3 million) to help in the recovery of embattled Marawi City, as Washington continued on Monday to beef up the military capability of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in a bid to end the almost four month-old siege staged by the Islamic State-inspired Maute Group.

US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim announced the multi-million peso assistance for the recovery and rehabilitation of besieged Marawi, as government troops and the Islamist militants are still engaged in combat. Ongoing fighting means tens of thousands of individuals remain in evacuation centers or with their relatives in nearby areas.

Kim revealed the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has allocated the amount to help in emergency relief and recovery assistance for communities affected by the ongoing conflict in Marawi.

SEE ALSO: Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia eye joint task force for fighting IS

Kim noted the Philippines remains a partner of the United States despite the bid of President Rodrigo Duterte to pursue an “independent foreign policy.” The firebrand president declared “a military and economic separation” from the US in a state visit to China last year as he seeks closer ties not only with Beijing but also Russia.

“The United States is deeply committed to this relationship and remains ready to support our friend and ally as we face the challenges and opportunities,” the envoy said.

“We all look forward to the end of the crisis, and the end of the fighting and suffering.  We have been and will continue to support the Philippine government’s efforts to deal with the crisis,” he added.

The US government will coordinate with the Philippine government and humanitarian organisations on the ground to deliver critical relief supplies such as safe drinking water, hygiene kits, kitchen sets, and shelter materials that will improve conditions in evacuation centers and other alternative housing.

USAID will also provide 18 facilities in Marawi with critical supplies and services to address tuberculosis and maternal, newborn and child health needs.

In addition to this, USAID will help bolster the early recovery of Marawi by restoring basic public services such as health care, water and electricity.

The aid agency will support Marawi’s longer-term stabilisation and rehabilitation by jumpstarting livelihoods, promoting community dialogue, rebuilding resilient health systems, and offering skills training and psychosocial counseling for youth.

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Evacuees collect water at an improvised drinking station after fleeing to an evacuation centre with their families in Saguiaran town, Lanao Del Sur, southern Philippines, on Sept 10, 2017. Source: Reuters/Romeo Ranoco

Last July, Washington provided access to potable water by distributing 12,000 water containers and nearly 100,000 chlorine tablets to 12,000 families staying in evacuation sites in Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur and Iligan City.

The US government has likewise committed to supply 6,500 tablet armchairs, which will be distributed to schools in Mindanao where displaced Marawi students are currently enrolled.

USAID supports peace and community development in Mindanao through 25 ongoing projects that improve local governance, strengthen the government’s capacity to deliver services, especially in health and education, and promote civic engagement.

SEE ALSO: Marawi conflict: 100 days on, tens of thousands of civilians still endure hardship

As this developed, the US embassy on Monday announced another deployment of a state-of-the-art surveillance aircraft in Mindanao as part of its commitment to beef up AFP’s defence capability in fighting Islamist militants and other lawless armed groups.

The embassy said a Gray Eagle Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) was deployed to the southern Philippines for additional surveillance in support of AFP’s counterterrorism efforts.

“Compared to current surveillance platforms used in the region, the Gray Eagle has a longer flight duration which will enable a larger area of reconnaissance and surveillance,” it said in a statement.

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A Gray Eagle Unmanned Aircraft System ready for flight. Source: US Embassy in Manila

Government troops remained locked in a battle with the Maute Group in Marawi, a southern Philippine island of Mindanao. Clashes erupted between government troops and the Maute Group on May 23, prompting President Rodrigo Duterte to put the entire Mindanao under martial law.

The firefight in Marawi continues to displace some 360,000 people, who have sought refuge in evacuation centres or stayed with their relatives. As the crisis wears on, many evacuees have complained of lack of relief assistance and lost economic opportunities.

Speaking at the “Mindanao Hour” press briefing Monday aired live on state television, AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said the military offensive in Marawi “is on the final push.”

Padilla said there will be no more negotiations with the Maute Group, which is still holding several hostages including a Catholic priest, noting “the end of the crisis in Marawi is near.”

Even before the clashes in Marawi erupted, the US has extended humanitarian and defence assistance to the Philippines, despite Duterte’s pivot to strengthen relations with China and Russia.

Over the past three years, the US has provided the Philippines with assistance valued at over PHP15 billion (US$295 million), to establish better command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities for the AFP.

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Government soldiers on patrol walk near damaged buildings and houses as troops continue their assault on its 105th day of clearing operations against pro-IS militants who have seized control of large parts of Marawi City, Philippines, on Sept 4, 2017. Source: Reuters/Romeo Ranoco

Recent US intelligence equipment delivered to the Philippines include a Raven tactical UAS and two Cessna-208B surveillance aircraft, as well as various munitions and weapons to support urgent defence and counterterrorism needs.

The strong, long-standing military relationship with the Philippines enables the US to respond quickly to the AFP’s needs and to support the army’s modernisation goals, according to the statement.

SEE ALSO: Women and children fighting alongside Islamic State militants in Marawi

Late last month, the Joint United States Military Assistance Group delivered 1,000 M40 field protective masks and C2 filter canisters to the Philippine Navy (PN) through the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA).

The PN requested the gas masks in order to better prepare Filipino sailors and marines to respond to chemical threats as the fighting continues in Marawi.

The transfer was part of a series of ongoing transfers from the US military to multiple branches of the AFP through both MLSA and the security assistance program.

Through the MLSA, the AFP is able to receive select munitions and equipment from US military stock in an accelerated process reserved for allies and close partners of the US