At least 30 civilians and 38 government troops have been killed, in addition to 120 terrorists, in the military offensive against the Islamic State (IS)-linked Maute group in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur, the Palace said on Sunday.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella announced the latest body count over the state-run Radyo ng Bayan on the 13th day of fighting.
“As of 11 p.m., June 3, 2017 in Marawi, there have been 30 civilians that have been killed by local terrorist groups, and those rescued are 1,271. Government casualties or those killed in action are 38,” he said.
“Our troops have killed 120 from the terrorist ranks, and that has remained unchanged,” Abella added.
Government forces have bombarded Marawi with air strikes and waged fierce street-to-street battles with hundreds of gunmen since the latter began a rampage through residential areas waving the black IS flags on May 22. President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao the day after.
The military on Sunday implemented a four-hour “peace corridor” or ceasefire in fighting until noon that allowed trapped Marawi residents to move to safer ground as well as humanitarian aid to pass.
“This might entail some operational risks to the security forces such as the Maute-ISIS Group also being accorded some sort of a reprieve during the lull. But these initiatives are necessary and called for to allow safe passage to the residents,” it said in a statement, using another acronym for IS.
Zia Alonto Adiong, spokesman for the provincial crisis management committee, told Agence France-Presse: “There are 2,000 people who need immediate help [after]13 days without food.”
“We do not know if the ceasefire has been breached,” he said, adding that a sudden surge in fighting had hampered the rescue efforts.
Scores of people made a daring dash for safety on Saturday, including one of Marawi’s most respected politicians who had hidden 71 Christians in his home and led 144 people through downtown streets strewn with rotting corpses.
The militants behind the violence in Marawi mostly belong to the Maute and the infamous Abu Sayyaf kidnap-for-ransom gang which had pledged allegiance to IS and rejected official peace talks.
Sunday’s ceasefire was initially reached following a meeting last week between President Rodrigo Duterte and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the nation’s biggest rebel organization which offered to broker a halt in hostilities using contacts with the fighters in Marawi, Adiong told dzBB radio.
Unarmed MILF rebels took civilians to safety, government rescue coordinator Naguib Sinarimbo said.
But an Agence France-Presse reporter said there was a sudden burst of gunfire and an explosion as rescue teams were entering the city.
A Muslim separatist rebellion in the southern Philippines has killed more than 120,000 people since the 1970s.
The MILF has signed accords with the government aimed at forging lasting peace, giving up their separatist ambitions in return for autonomy.
But small hardline groups, including the Maute and Abu Sayyaf, have refused to negotiate and sought to united behind IS.
The clashes in Marawi erupted when security forces raided a house to arrest Isnilon Hapilon, a veteran Filipino militant regarded as IS’s leader in the Philippines. He is on the US government’s list of most-wanted terrorists.
Authorities said they were taken by surprise when many gunmen emerged to protect Hapilon and then went on a rampage through Marawi, which has a population of 200,000.
Shortly after the violence erupted Duterte imposed martial law across Mindanao, home to 20 million people, to quell what he said was an IS bid to establish a base in the mainly Catholic Philippines.
Rep. Tom Villarin called for the lifting of military rule, claiming Mindanaoans were against it.
“Even those from Marawi are calling for the lifting of Martial law. The rest of the Filipinos do not know about the humanitarian crisis in Marawi. Air strikes have victimized civilians; you get flagged at checkpoints and detained if you don’t have an ID. And when you are a Muslim, you are automatically a suspect. These are all because of martial law,” he said in a radio interview.
Villarin and other lawmakers have vowed to question the martial law decree under Proclamation 216 before the Supreme Court.