by Francis Wakefield and Reuters
The bodies of 17 civilians, five of them decapitated, believed to have been executed by the Islamic State (IS)-inspired Maute Group in Marawi City, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said on Wednesday.
In a statement, the AFP Joint Task Force Marawi disclosed that the bodies were discovered while government troops, together with the Philippine National Police (PNP), Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) and civilian volunteers, were conducting retrieval operations in Barangay Gadungan, Marawi City at 11:40 a.m. Wednesday.
“The recovered cadavers are believed to be among those civilians who were helplessly murdered by the Maute/ASG terrorists,” said Brig. Gen. Joselito Bautista, the commander of Joint Task Force Marawi.
Lieutenant Colonel Emmanuel Garcia of the Western Mindanao Command said in a text message to reporters the five decapitated were found among 17 civilians killed by militants.
Garcia did not respond immediately to repeated requests for more details.
It was not clear when the bodies were found. A civilian rescue worker, Abdul Azis Lomondot, told Reuters earlier there were body parts found on Wednesday, but there was “no proof of beheading.”
The battle for Marawi entered its 36th day on Wednesday, with intense gunfights and bombing in the heart of the town and black-clad fighters seen from afar running between buildings as explosions rang out. Marawi is on southern Mindanao island.
As this developed, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla on Wednesday said the death toll on the side of the Maute Group has already reached 299.
In an interview, Padilla said that of the 299 terrorists killed, half of them were accounted for via body count.
Asked if there are foreign terrorists among the bodies retrieved, Padilla said there were reports that at least two bodies look like Middle Eastern or coming from the Middle East.
Padilla, however, said that just like his previous statements, they don’t have any other documents to prove or can use as basis “for the existence of all these foreigners except information that have been coming in from various sources.”
Asked about the possibility that foreigners are still part of the more than 100 Maute Group fighters still holed up in Marawi City, Padilla said it could be.
“Perhaps, perhaps,” Padilla said.
“We don’t know what their specific role, we don’t have any information on that.
But we do believe that there are still a number of them (there),” Padilla said.
Meanwhile, the military is not setting a deadline to end the Marawi conflict, Padilla said in response to a question asking him to comment on the statement of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana that they are looking to end the conflict before the State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA) of President Duterte.
“We are not setting any deadline and I have been citing why, because of the complexity of the environment, the combat environment, and the terrain. But that is also about the same time when the period for martial law would end so that’s why we are doing our best to finish this… to liberate Marawi the soonest time possible,” Padilla said.
As troops continue to their assault, Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera, spokesman of both Joint Task Force Marawi and the Army’s 1st Infantry Division, ground troops have monitored increasing intentional arson activities in various parts of the city due to the Maute Group’s growing desperation.
MARAWI STUDENTS IN MAKATI
Meanwhile, the local government unit (LGU) of Makati has accepted a high school pupil and six college students from war-torn Marawi after the city-run University of Makati (UMak) opened its doors to the displaced students weeks ago.
Makati Mayor Abigail Binay reiterated her call to students affected by the fighting in Marawi and children of soldiers killed in combat to take advantage of the opportunity to complete their college education as full scholars of the city government.
“We welcome students from Marawi who would like to pursue their college education as scholars of the city government. This is our simple way of showing that we care for our brothers and sisters whose lives have been disrupted by the conflict in Marawi,” Binay said.
Based on the records of the Office of the Registrar (OR) at UMak, as of June 27, two transferees from Marawi were officially enrolled in the university, while five more, including a senior high school student, are completing the enrollment process.
UMak-OR revealed that both officially enrolled students are taking up Bachelor of Science in Management Accounting, one on her third year and the other on her second year.
The other five transferees still completing the enrolment process are two third year students taking up BS in Management Accounting, a third year BS in Civil Engineering student, a freshman taking up BS in Information Technology Service Management, and a Grade 11 student enrolling at UMak’s senior high school, UMak-OR added. (With a report from Martin A. Sadongdong)