Philippines: War Correspondents Risk Their Lives To Cover Islamist Insurgency & Terror In Marawi City
MANILA, June 19 -- Despite the imminent danger to their lives, droves of intrepid journalists - both local and foreign - rushed to faraway Marawi City when fighting broke out between government forces and the Maute terrorist group on May 23.
One of the veteran broadcasters was Benjie Liwanag of radio station DZBB, who was sent by his media outfit to report a blow-by-blow account of the fighting, which to date has killed 228 terrorists, 59 soldiers, and 37 civilians - many of the civilian deaths coming by execution.
Marawi City is about 850 kilometers south of Manila, in the province of Lanao del Sur on the island of Mindanao, which has been a hotbed of Islamist violence and a target of government counterinsurgency for decades.
Adam Harvey, radio broadcaster for the Australian Broadcasting Company, was the first journalist wounded during coverage of the fighting over the weekend.
Harvey was wounded in the neck while covering the live fighting. He was rushed to the hospital and was later pronounced out of danger.
The war has displaced tens of thousands of residents the past 27 days, and the probability is high that more infrastructure will be destroyed in the coming days if the fighting continues.
The media persons from print, radio, and television presented in real time the gun battles between government forces and the Maute group and their allies – the Abu Sayyaf and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
There are reports that foreign-looking terrorists have participated in the fighting, including operating as snipers.
With today’s modern technology, citizens across the country can listen over the radio or witness the carnage on televisions right in their living rooms, including the "surgical airstrikes" against terrorists holed up in tall, concrete buildings in Marawi City.
Benjie Liwanag was no stranger to covering a war. He covered the bloody Zamboanga siege mounted by elements of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in 2013.
Other Manila-based journalists who went to Marawi City were Jim Gomez of the Associated Press (AP), Sandra Aguinaldo, Jun Veneracion, Macky Pulido, and Emil Sumangil all of Channel 7.
Also on the front line are Chiara Zambrano, Jeff Canoy, George Cariňo, and Rod Galacgac of ABS-CBN TV/DZMM radio and Ed Estabillo, to name a few.
Liwanag said that more than 80 journalists are covering the clashes in Marawi where scores of civilians continue to flee their homes to avoid being caught in the crossfire.
In an interview with The Media Project, Liwanag said that he stayed for three weeks in Marawi City before he was given a break by DZBB management to return to Manila for a respite.
Despite the dangers he and other reporters have to face day in and day out, Benjie went out of his way to report live over DZBB or Channel 7 every time a battle erupted between government forces and Maute terrorists or whenever airstrikes were launched by planes and helicopter gunships of the Air Force.
In many instances, he ignored his personal safety as he tailed the government forces assaulting Maute terrorists’ hideouts in the city.
“I always pray to God for my protection,” Benjie said during the interview, and tears in his eyes as he emotionally recalled “how our soldiers have made their great sacrifice, risking their lives in defending the country from terrorists’ attacks.”
“I salute our brave soldiers and I also pray for them,” Benjie said. "After my break for a few days, I will go back to Marawi to continue my coverage.”
Like the raw courage of the soldiers, journalists covering the Marawi fighting are dubbed as the fearless war correspondents whose mission is to broadcast and write the truth of what is happening in the war zone for the public to be apprised in real time right in the comfort of their homes.
Graphic of the flag of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front is from Wikipedia Commons and used under Creative Commons license.