THE military on Tuesday said four out of 12 villages ravaged by fighting in Marawi City remained in the hands of about 200 members of the Maute group, with up to 1,000 civilians still trapped and enslaved by the Islamic State-linked terrorists.
Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) Western Mindanao Command, said many of Marawi’s 96 barangay or villages have been cleared of terrorists after three weeks of clashes, but fighting remained in at least 12 villages.
“Out of the 96 barangay, maybe 12 [villages]are still affected. But [Maute’s] real strongholds are just around four villages,” Galvez told reporters.
“Of course, this group can maneuver within the villages but their real stronghold is just at four,” he added. “They have established [themselves in those areas]since the Mautes’ families are already there.”
Earlier, AFP Spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr. said the terrorists occupied less than 10 percent of Marawi City, a Muslim-majority city of 200,000 people that serves as the capital of Lanao del Sur province in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
The Maute are killing civilians who try to flee while using others as orderlies and cooks, authorities said Tuesday after the gunmen boasted of executions.
There are up to 1,000 people still trapped in the parts of Marawi City that the militants control, the government said, three weeks after fighting erupted with gunmen going on a rampage and flying black flags of the IS.
The terrorists have defied a US-backed military onslaught, which has seen relentless bombing of the residential areas of Marawi where they are holed up.
“Based on the revelations of the trapped civilians we have recovered (rescued), they are being used as orderlies to cook their food, to carry their munitions,” military spokesman Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera told reporters.
The death toll is nearing 300, with at least 26 civilians, 58 police or soldiers and 202 militants killed, according to the government.
Five of the civilians were killed on Monday as they made a dash for safety when the militants discovered their hiding place, Palace spokesman Ernesto Abella told reporters in Manila.
“They were going to the river but the militants ran after them and indiscriminately fired at them, killing five and taking the remaining eight as hostages,” Abella said.
IS also released a video on Monday via its Amaq propaganda news agency which it said showed jihadists shooting six Christians in Marawi, according to the US-based SITE monitoring service.
A voiceover suggested further executions had taken place off-camera, SITE reported.
There were tearful scenes in Marawi on Tuesday morning after five Muslim policemen and five Christian construction workers sprinted about two kilometers (1.2 miles) from the militant-controlled areas to safety.
“As we were running, the ISIS fired at us,” said Marawi police officer Lumna Lidasan, speaking to reporters in between sobs and using an acronym for an alternate IS name.
Lidasan said the policemen could have left earlier because they were Muslim but they feared for the safety of the construction workers.
“They did not speak Maranao (the local Muslim dialect), so I knew they would have been slaughtered,” Lidasan said.
Marawi, the main Islamic city in the predominantly Catholic Philippines, is largely abandoned now, with about 250,000 people having fled the city and nearby areas.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Tuesday it had for weeks been trying without success to persuade both sides to agree to a humanitarian corridor to let the remaining civilians leave safely.
“We’re worried about these civilians. There are elderly and sick people among them,” Martin Thalmann, the deputy ICRC country chief, told AFP.
President Rodrigo Duterte has said the attack on Marawi was part of a wider plot by IS to establish a base in the southern region of Mindanao, home to 20 million people.
He declared martial law across Mindanao on May 23, the day after the Maute attacked the city.
Galvez said the military needed to reclaim high-rise establishments used by Maute snipers.
But soldiers have killed more than 80 of the sharpshooters, “so it means they are already weakened,” he said.
Galvez said he could still not give a definite date on when the crisis in Marawi would end, after several deadlines have passed.
The latest one was on June 12, Independence Day, but bombs continued to drop on Marawi as the national flag was raised over parts of the battle-ravaged city.
AFP Chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Ano earlier said the clash could be ended before the 60-day martial law period.