The military is preparing for “one big battle” against the Maute group in Marawi after regaining the Islamic City’s Grand Mosque last week, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Año said on Monday.
Año made the statement after Cayamora Maute, father of top Maute group leaders Abdullah and Omarkhayam, died at the Taguig-Pateros District Hospital on Sunday afternoon after his blood pressure shot up.
“This will have a big effect on the fighting since his (Cayamora) sons inside Marawi City will of course be affected,” he told reporters in a chance interview at the sidelines of the National Heroes’ Day rites at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in Taguig City.
The AFP chief said Cayamora’s death was an “unfortunate event,” noting that the Maute patriarch had “a lot” to answer for as far as his involvement in terrorism in Mindanao was concerned.
“So, his family are also saddened by this, but that’s how life is. He had sickness, so maybe it’s his time already,” Año said.
Cayamora was detained inside the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) jail complex in Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig.
The BJMP said the Maute patriarch had complained of weakness on August 9. He was attended to by medical officers who gave him antibiotics and diuretics for a week, until he regained strength and his vital signs went back to normal.
On Sunday, however, his blood pressure shot up and Cayamora, 64, was declared dead on arrival at 3:07 p.m. in the Taguig-Pateros District Hospital.
His remains were brought back to the BJMP jail complex for viewing by immediate family members.
Cayamora was arrested on June 6 in Davao City along with several others, for their alleged involvement the May 23 attack on Marawi City that forced President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law.
Smaller space left
Soldiers took control of the Grand Mosque at the center of the main battle area in Marawi, along with the Marawi City Police Station, last week.
“We have seen the progress and development of our soldiers. We took back the Grand Mosque and the Maute are now left with smaller space,” Año said.
“So probably, we’re preparing for one big battle,” he added.
Over CNN Philippines, AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr. said fighting could get more intense.
“This may entice them (Maute) to be more brazen, much more bolder because all the facts may not be clear to them and it may push them to take more drastic actions in the fight that is currently ongoing,” Padilla said.
The military also expects Cayamora’s death to be used as a “propaganda tool” by the Maute group to rally supporters.
Padilla said ground commanders and soldiers were working to clear about 400 more buildings within a half-square-kilometer area in Marawi City.
The Maute are believed to be holding 30 to 50 civilians hostages, including Fr. Chito Suganob.
As of the latest military count, 603 Maute members have been killed by the military. A total of 665 firearms were recovered from the terrorists.
About 1,270 improvised explosive devices and unexploded ordnance were also recovered by troops in different structures previously held by the Maute group.
On the government side, 130 soldiers have been killed since fighting erupted more than three months ago.
The conflict has also claimed the lives of 45 civilians.
More Maute killed
On Monday, at least five members of the Islamic State-linked Maute group were killed after encountering soldiers from Task Group Musang within the waters of Lanao Lake.
The terrorists were aboard two motorized pump boats and were attempting to sneak into the main battle area of Marawi City at 2:30 a.m. Monday, according to Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom).
A three-hour firefight and pursuit operations ensued between Joint Task Group Lawa and the Maute terrorists.
At 5 a.m., fighting ended and troops recovered five cadavers of the terrorists, one M16 rifle and one motorized pump boat. The military said it failed to recover five other bodies.
“Let this be a warning to those who have the intention to escape and to enter [the main battle area], our troops are ready for you. We will definitely get you,” said Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., WestMinCom chief.