BUTIG, Lanao del Sur (MindaNews / 1 Dec) – After seven days of fighting, government troops have retaken this town earlier held by the Maute terror group and eliminating the latter’s dream in making this municipality the foundation of a caliphate state in Mindanao.
Col. Roseller Murillo, commander of the Army’s 103rd Infantry Brigade, said the town of Butig was overran by government soldiers last Wednesday, the day President Rodrigo Duterte arrived here, but it took a day to clear the town of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and unexploded ordnance that littered its streets.
The government claimed more than 45 from the Maute group were killed while 22 soldiers were wounded in the seven days of fighting.
“We have taken back two thirds of Butig and have driven back the terrorists to the foothills of nearby mountains,” Murillo said.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development said more 2,450 families or 12,500 persons from eight barangays have fled the fighting in Butig.
A group of journalists, including MindaNews, was allowed to enter the war-torn town and found most of the buildings either bombed-out or peppered with bullet holes. No residents have opted to stay, though, making the town center like a ghost town.
A pair of Philippine Air Force MG 520 gunships flew over the town firing rockets and machine guns to suspected terrorist positions.
Even one of the soldiers escorting the journalists was dismayed upon seeing the two-story house of his aunt heavily damaged. He lived during his elementary days.
“Sayang kaayo (Such a waste). This was a beautiful town where Christians and Muslims lived peacefully together years ago,” said Corporal Bryan Lim Francisco.
Francisco recalled his elementary years in this municipality, where he helped run the grocery store of his aunt who was a public school teacher.
He recalled during the town’s market days of yore when Boholano and Maranao vendors would sell their wares in the public market.
The town of Butig is no stranger to war. During President Estrada’s all-out war against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2000, government forces also overran the nearby Camp Bushra in Darul Iman.
Murillo said the fighting is now concentrated in Darul Iman where the Maute group has taken over the MILF camp.
He said the MILF, following the ceasefire protocol, has repositioned its forces away from the conflict area.
Murillo said the Maute group numbered around 300 armed men who are skillful in sniping and IED manufacture, and have intimate knowledge of the terrain.
The Army official advised that for their safety, residents should not return to their homes this early, as the military is still double-checking unexploded ordnance that may be hidden somewhere. (Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)