THE government has warned the public against the illegal recruitment of civilians in Mindanao amid the ongoing siege of Marawi City, which has now entered its 68th day on Saturday.
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza issued the warning following the arrest of 60 men in two separate incidents in the Zamboanga Peninsula on Tuesday.
“[Those] unscrupulous individuals are recruiting male civilians in Mindanao to be ‘integrated’ into AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] using the name of the MNLF [Moro Nation Liberation Front] and other groups. My office has received similar reports from other area of Mindanao,” Dureza said.
“There is no ongoing ‘integration’ arrangement at all between the government and any group or faction under the Peace Process. This could be a scam or a handiwork of terrorists recruiting fighters to fight the government,” he added.
The arrests were made as firefights between the government troops and Islamic State-linked terrorists in Marawi City continue, leaving more than 600 dead and thousands displaced.
But Dureza refused to connect the alleged recruitment to the ongoing attack staged by Maute terrorists in Marawi City.
“Let’s wait for results of investigation. Still ongoing… My statement and the public knowing about their arrest hopefully will counter whatever plans if any the recruiters have,” Dureza said in a text message.
In a statement, the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom) said the suspects would face rebellion charges for “covert acts tending to reinforce the Maute-ISIS [Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] terrorists fighting government in Marawi.”
“They were flown by a Philippine Air Force plane to Manila for further questioning and custody in an appropriate facility while charges are being prepared for violation of the Revised Penal Code relating to the crime of Rebellion,” the WestMinCom said.
The military said 33 men were arrested at a military checkpoint in Ipil, Zamboanga Del Sur, while 27 others were apprehended in a house in Guiwan, Zamboanga City.
Military and police uniforms were confiscated from both groups.
Upon interrogation, they reportedly claimed they were members of the MNLF on their way to Camp Jabal Nur in Lanao del Sur for training prior to integration into the AFP.
The MNLF, however, denied links with the groups, according to the military.
Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., WestMinCom commander, said the military was doing its best to prevent a spillover of the Marawi conflict.
“These two instances of arrest, and of the other group who knowingly misrepresented themselves to be soldiers and policemen on their way to Marawi City, should allay the fears of our people of the likelihood of the rebellion in Marawi spilling over to their places because the military and the police are doing their level best to contain it,” Galvez said.
“With Martial Law in force in entire Mindanao, we can validly restrict and effect arrests of suspicious persons and unscrupulous groups whose actions bear with the rebellion,” he added.
The Maute group waged attacks in Marawi City on May 23, prompting President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law and suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao for a period of 60 days.
Congress extended on Saturday the martial law declaration up to December 31.
According to the Palace, the death toll in the Marawi siege has risen to 630, as of July 26. The reported casualties include 471 Islamist gunmen, 45 civilians, and 114 security personnel.
Government security forces have rescued 1723 civilians, cleared 26 buildings, and recovered 576 firearms at present.