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War babies to live with ‘Martial’ law legacy

Raisah Labay gently cradles her newborn: A boy who was named Martial to mark her flight from war-torn Marawi City and his birth under newly imposed military rule.

President Duterte declared Martial Law in Mindanao last month in response to Islamist militants going on a rampage in her home city Marawi, which triggered deadly clashes that show no signs of ending.

Nearly all of the Islamic city’s 200,000 residents have fled the fighting and are now living in overcrowded evacuation centers where babies sleep on gymnasium floors and makeshift cribs suspended from basketball rings or relatives’ homes.

”I named him Martial as a sign that he was born in the time of war,” Labay, 21, told AFP while seated on the bleachers of an evacuation camp in Iligan City. ”During Martial Law, our lives collapsed. Someday, I want to tell him about the painful ordeal I went through: Going into labor while evacuating our family and telling myself: ‘No, don’t push him out yet’.”

The urban battle began on May 23 when hundreds of militants waving black flags of the Islamic State group occupied parts of Marawi in what authorities said was a bid to declare a caliphate in the region. Despite a US-backed bombing campaign that has destroyed large parts of Marawi, many militants remain holed up in pockets of the city protected by hundreds of human shields and they are continuing to surprise with their enduring firepower.

Outside the combat zone, refugees are dying from disease and dehydration, with women and children bearing the brunt of the humanitarian crisis, according to local officials and aid groups.

”Almost every day, some people in evacuation centers die: Children, the elderly. They get sick but our hospitals are full because of the bulk of the evacuees,” provincial vice governor Mamintal Adiong told AFP.