MARAWI CITY (MindaNews/12 June) – Four workers of a furniture shop in this embattled city escaped to safety by braving the rapids of the Agus River Monday.
Arnold Saropio, Rey Saropio, Emerio Ruiz and Apolinario Calungsod worked at a furniture shop in Lilod, Marawi City. Calungsod hails from Libertad, Misamis Oriental. The rest are from Midsalip, Zamboanga del Sur.
In a hurried interview at the health clinic inside the provincial capitol compound, Arnold said they swam the Agus River after eluding the Maute members who arrived in their workplace at dawn on Monday.
He said their employer, Michael Gani, told them to escape through the backdoor.
The Maute Group, Arnold said, seized Gani and his whereabouts still remained unknown as of Monday afternoon.
He said his co-worker named Johari Ulama waved a white flag to signify they’re civiians at the approaching Maute members. But the latter shot him dead.
An officer of a humanitarian group who requested anonymity said the workers established contact with them through a number posted on Facebook which trapped residents may call to ask for guidance on possible escape routes.
“But we lost contact with them at around 7:00 a.m. on Sunday,” the source said.
Staff at the clinic refused requests from media to interview further Arnold and his companions as they were brought to a room for checkup.
The source said the Maute Group tried to increase its ranks by giving male residents of Marawi two choices – join them or die.
“Kung ako, seguro moapil na lang ko kaysa patyon (For me, maybe I’d rather join than get killed),” he said.
In a press conference Sunday at the 4th Infantry Division headquarters in Cagayan de Oro City, Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Eduardo Ano said the presence of trapped civilians was slowing down their offensive.
But Ano claimed it would only be a matter of time before Marawi can be recovered [from the Maute Group]. “Isolated sila in two barangays.”
Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, Western Mindanao Command chief, described Marawi as a “rat hole” where their adversaries have managed to move from one building to another because “the terrain is theirs.”
He called the siege a “hybrid war” or a combination of conventional and non-conventional warfare. “They (Maute Group) don’t play by the rules.”
But he assured that government forces were gaining and winning. “Konting pasensiya lang (Just a little patience),” he said.
In an impromptu press conference at the 4th Infantry Division hospital where he awarded medals to soldiers who were wounded in action in Marawi, President Rodrigo Duterte said the Maute members were confined to “one or two buildings.”
“Snipers. Iyon lang ang tatapusin (That’s the only thing left to be done). But ang sundalo, they’re there in Marawi na,” he said.
The Marawi siege started on May 23, when the Maute Group took control of portions of the city and engaged government forces in a cat-and-mouse brand of combat that has forced the military to employ its air assets.
Aerial bombardment of suspected Maute positions continued on Monday.
On Thursday, when Duterte’s trip to Marawi was cancelled allegedly due to “foul weather,” Galvez said they were “looking at the possibility that the end will be near.”
Brig. Gen. Rolando Joselito Bautista, 1st Infantry Division chief said their timetable is to “gain headway” within four days or by Monday, which happens to be Philippine Independence Day. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno/MindaNews)