by Ali Macabalang
Marawi City – Continuing military offensives for the past three days against the Maute Group in Lanao del Sur has resulted in the death of about 30 lawless elements, according to the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
In a statement from the103rd Infantry Brigade of the First Infantry (Tabak) Division, Brig. Gen. Nixon Fortes said the military was also able to seize and occupy “the enemy’s main encampment with fortified bunkers (and) running trenches in Sitio Pagalungan, Barangay Gacap in Piagapo, Lanao del Sur.
Among those recovered in the Maute camp was the body of a slain member, an Indonesian passport, components for improvised explosive devices (IEDs), cellular phones and a video camera.
He said three soldiers were wounded in the operations.
According to First Infantry Division Commander Brig. Gen. Joselito Bautista, the military “used a combination of lethal and non-lethal methords to force (the Maute) group out of their stronghold.”
“Precision air strikes made the group break up into smaller groups to minimize collateral damage,” Bautista said.
He added that the “continuous focused military operations were in accordance with the directive issued by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte.”
“Terrorists will be confronted and dealt with harshly. Peace and order must be attained in order for development to come to Piagapo and adjacent municipalities,” Bautista underscored.
Meanwhile, the military offensives have displaced at least 530 families involving 2,444 individuals as of Sunday, relief officials reported yesterday.
The bulk of evacuees, or 616 families with 1,828 persons, come from barangays Gacap, Tapocan, Pantaon and Tambo in Piagapo town where soldiers, backed by artillery and air support, launched offensives last Saturday against guerrillas of the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups, officials said.
In Balindong, which is adjacent to Piagapo, 114 families, or about 600 individuals, fled their homes at the height of military bombardments on suspected hideouts of the bandits, provincial information officer Salma Jayne Tamano said, citing reports from local disaster risk reduction and management council (MDRRMC).
Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, anointed by the terror group Islamic State (IS) ISIS as its leader in the Philippines and Asia, is reportedly in Lanao del Sur to recruit more jihadists, according to Joint Task Force ZAMPELAN (Zamboanga Peninsula and Lanao) officials.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana had earlier claimed that Hapilon “moved to Central Mindanao allegedly on the behest of the IS people in the Middle East to find out if )if the region is more conducive to the establishment of an organization because…Basilan and Jolo are too small.”
The military offensives are confined to barangays Gacap, Tapocan, Pantaon and Tambo, which all lie at the border of this city with Piagapo, Balindong and Marantao towns, according to residents who fear that the encounter between government forces and the terror groups could result in a long-drawn conflict.