The word from friends and family back home, in Dennis Duhaylungsod's native Marawi, isn't good.
Since late May 2017, the city, located on the southern island of Mindanao in the Philippines, has been under siege after more than 600 heavily armed fighters, waving Islamic State group-style black flags, stormed in, occupied buildings, houses and mosques and took hostages, according to reports from the Associated Press.
The Maute group, the reports said, is one of less than a dozen new armed Muslim groups that have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, forming a loose alliance in the southern Philippines in recent years and currently orchestrating the siege in Duhaylungsod's Marawi.
“I wouldn’t even call them a terrorist group," Duhaylungsod told ABC10. "I would call them bandits, extortionists. They kidnap people for ransom, and to me that’s banditry."
At least 428 militants, 105 soldiers and policemen, and 45 civilians have been killed since the fighting began, according to the AP's reports, and half a million residents have been displaced, military officials said.
On July 23, the Philippine Congress approved Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte's appeal for martial law in the south--which was enacted following the beginning of the siege--to be extended to the end of the year to help troops quell a two-month siege by Islamic State group-linked militants and stamp out similar extremist plots in the volatile region, according to the Associated Press.
“I cannot tell you how many of those communities were displaced because of massive military operations," Duhaylungsod said of Duterte's declaration of martial law. "Children and women were victims, crops were destroyed, stolen even by soldiers."
Duhaylungsod, who was born in Marawi, is a clergy person at the United Church of Christ in San Lorenzo. California is home to nearly 1.5 million Filipinos, and the United States continues to have the largest population of Filipinos outside the Philippines, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
"Various organizations throughout the country have been holding vigils, especially right after the atrocity," said Eugene Gambol, a second generation Filipino who lives in San Francisco and works with National Alliance for Filipino Concerns, a national multi-issue alliance of Filipino organizations and individuals in the United States serving to protect the rights and welfare of Filipinos.
"I believe we have to educated our community about what's going on first, because some people aren't aware of what's going on," Gambol said.
To help the public, and the millions of Filipinos living in the U.S., understand and make sense of the crisis in Marawi, Gambol said NAFCON has started holding workshops to educate those who may not know about the dire situation Maranaos are facing.
"It's important," Gambol said. "As Filipinos, we have a long-standing relationship with the U.S., because we were a colony, and we continue to have those relationships; politically, economically, militarily."
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