by Argyll Cyrus Geducos and Francis Wakefield
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said yesterday that the number of Islamic State-inspired Maute rebels in Marawi City in Lanao del Sur is now down to between 20 and 40.
AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla military operations are now concentrated in two of the 96 barangays of the city.
“Between 20 to 40 na lang siguro ‘yan (I think it’s just around 30 to 40),” Padilla said. “But their capacity to inflict harm is still there because they still have arms, they still have adequate ammunition, and they still continue to hold hostages,” he said during the Mindanao Hour press briefing Monday.
Martial law in Mindanao will remain in effect, he said, adding, “The public must know that the situation in Marawi is not the sole reason President Duterte declared martial law in the entire Mindanao. This rebel group has a structure that is beyond Marawi,” Padilla said. “They have groups in other portions of Lanao, in Maguindanao, in Sulu archipelago, et cetera.”
“No. We still have a lot of work to do. We still have a lot of areas to address. And that is why we still need it (martial law),” Padilla said.
These issues include the proliferation of firearms possessed by the armed groups in Mindanao, the existence of all other elements that are still around and may consolidate and join forces.
“Hangga’t hindi natin na-a-address ito, may pangangailangan na ipagpatuloy natin itong ginagawa nating security operations (Until these issues are addressed, there is a need that we continue with our operations),” Padilla said.
These issues, he said, include the proliferation of firearms held by armed groups in Mindanao, the existence of other elements who may consolidate and join forces.
Padilla said citizens have no reason to be afraid of martial law as long as they are law-abiding.
“Martial law is addressed not only at the rebellion occurring in Marawi but the overall security situation in Mindanao,” he added.
According to the latest report of the AFP, a total of 45 civilians have been killed by the terrorists in Marawi City since the war started on May 23, 2017.
As of Sunday evening, a total of 1,728 civilians have been rescued; 562 enemies killed, 619 firearms recovered, and 128 government troopers killed.
The AFP’s Joint Task Force Marawi said 38 more buildings were cleared on Day 83 of the operations. At least 11 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were recovered.
Joint Task Force Marawi and Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom) spokeswoman Captan Jo-Ann D. Petinglay, said at least 400 structures in a one square kilometer area are still yet to be cleared. The troops have been able to clear at least 15 structures a day.
“In the past few days, soldiers were only able to clear two buildings, depending on the structure. For example, if it’s a six-story building, it takes about one or two days before it can be cleared. The structure has more IEDs. We also think about the hostages; that’s the challenging part,” Petinglay said.
She said troops have yet to get close to the main group. “According sa apat na hostage na rescue, halos iyung lahat ng hostages dun nakatago sa isang mosque (According to the four hostages that were rescued, almost all the hostages are being kept inside a mosque),” she said. The remaining hostages could be around 40, of which 20 are women.
She added that as of 7 p.m. Sunday, the total number of terrorists killed had already reached 562 with 619 firearms recovered, based on the latest figures provided by ground commanders. The government forces killed-in-action number 128.
Meanwhile, staff members of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), soldiers, and other local government workers delivered bundles of rice and goods to the displaced persons from Marawi City who are temporarily sheltered in an evacuation center in Malabang, Lanao del Sur, last Friday.
Malabang which is about 73 kilometers away from Marawi City now has about 1,600 evacuees who sought refuge in the town after the Maute Group attacked Marawi last May.
Leading the distribution of the goods was Malabang Municipal Social Welfare and Development Chief Linang Pangkat. who expressed her gratitude to those who supported the endeavor, especially mentioning the security sector.
On behalf of the Malabang Mayor Raizol S. Balindong, Municipal Administrator Jerry Rakim thanked the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) government and the Lanao del Sur provincial government for the seven truckloads of aid that arrived for the evacuees.
Soldiers of the Joint Task Force Marawi conducted activities for the children and led them in singing the “Kalilintad” (Peace) song. Sgt. Tony Halasan, the composer and original singer of the song, played the guitar while children sang with him.
“We will always be of help whenever it is needed,” said Lt. Gen. Carlito G. Galvez, Jr., commander of the Western Mindanao Command.
HOSTAGES AS BOMBERS
Malacañang yesterday denounced the Maute Group’s plan to use its hostages as suicide bombers should they be cornered by government troops.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said reports of the plan came from hostages who were able to escape.
“We strongly denounce these desperate actions which apparently are carefully calculated to create violent reaction from the general populace in order to create tension among ethnic groups, which the terrorist groups expect to work in favor of their cause,” Abella said.
He said President Duterte has ordered the government troops to make the safety of the hostages their highest priority and consideration.
Three hostages were able to escape last week. Romar Marjalino, 39; his brother Roel, 37, and Jimmy Esperat, 43, said the terrorists were planning to strap improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on the hostages.
Marjalino confirmed that Catholic priest Fr. Teresito (Chito) Suganob is still alive but they were not able to bring him with them as he was too weak. Fr. Chito said that he had “accepted his fate,” Marjalino said.
The priest is reportedly assigned to collecting powder from firecrackers like “piccolo” and “five star” for use making improvised bombs.
Marjalino said several children appeared sick due to the bomb explosions and the stench of decomposing human flesh.
During the celebation of Internaional Humanitarian Law Month at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Pasay City, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the Marawi terrorists were using childen to fight government soldiers.
“We saw some teenagers holding guns and being used by Maute and other lawless elements in Mindanao,” he said. “Kasama na ang mga Abu Sayyaf in Basilan and Sulu. Ginagamit talaga ang mga bata. In fact those who do the beheading of their captives are teenagers.”
Sen. Richard Gordon said the use of children as soldiers is a violation of the Geneva Convention of 1949. (With reports by Roy G. Mabasa)