MARAWI CITY (MindaNews / 31 May) — The death toll in the ongoing clashes between government forces and the Maute Group in Marawi City has reached 128 from May 23 to May 30, 89 of them members of local terrorist groups, 20 government forces and 19 civilians, the spokesperson of the 1st Infantry Division said Wednesday.
In Davao City also on Wednesday, President Rodrigo Duterte, who declared martial law effective 10 p.m. on May 23 when the first-day clashes left three government forces dead (two soldiers, one police) and 12 injured, lamented that the government “suffered tremendous losses” here in Marawi but blamed the illegal drugs trade for funding terrorist groups.
Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera, spokesperson, told a press briefing at the Operations Center here Wednesday noon that of the 89 reported slain terrorists, body count is 42 while the rest — 47 — is “confirmed by eye witness.” Also recovered were 91 high powered firearms, 40 more than the May 29 figure of 51 high powered firearms.
Herrera did not announce how many government forces and civilians had been killed until he was asked.
He replied that as of May 30, 20 government forces were killed while 72 others were injured. Nineteen civilians were “killed by local terrorist groups.”
But these are the same numbers as of May 29 that Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella cited during a press briefing in Malacanang on May 30.
Abella said of the 20 government forces killed, 17 were from the military, three from the police. Of the 72 injured, 69 are from the military.
Abella said civilians “killed by local terrorist groups” remained at 19 since the May 28 tally. It remains at 19 as of May 30, according to Herrera’s update although Nasser Abdul Malang of Barangay Lilod who sells ice to fish vendors and was among those who were reported rescued, told reporters he saw four dead bodies of his neighbors as he was fleeing.
There is no mention how many civilians were injured. But as of May 29, a total of 560 civilians had been rescued from the battle zone, 121 as of May 29 and 390 between May 26 and 28. As of May 30, Herrera said a total of 960 civilians have been rescued, up by 400 from the May 29 tally.
An estimated 2,000 residents are still trapped in the battle zone, Herrera added.
He said some 20 to 30 armed terrorists are spread in the area, occupying vantage positions in high rise buildings but added that based on reports they are running out of bullets.
“Some are aking for food, some are asking for bullets and ammunition. very desperate. their morale is very low,” he said.
“Our mandate is to destroy the local terrorist groups,” said Herrera, adding, “We control the battlefield” but admitted “we are confronting a very difficult terrain,” noting that what is happening in Marawi is an urban warfare.
Asked if veterans of the September 2013 Zamboanga siege have been deployed to Marawi, Herrera replied: “the best armed forces units are here in Marawi City.”
The last time government forces engaged in urban warfare was in September 2013 when they fought the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) under founding chair Nur Misuari, led by Ustadz Habier Malik for nearly three weeks.
In Davao City on Wednesday, Duterte told the audience attending the 119th Philippine Navy anniversary celebration that he grieves the loss of his soldiers and civilians. “It is not easy to read a briefer everyday to find out that you’re losing aplenty of your best soldiers and the hardworking policemen.”
Duterte blamed the illegal drugs trade for funding terrorist groups. He narrated that he had earlier warned that “Marawi was the bedrock of the manufacture of illegal chemical called the shabu” and that illegal drugs funded terrorists like the Maute Group.
“I lose four, five soldiers and policemen everyday. And in Marawi now, I’m very sad to tell you that we have suffered tremendous losses because we are the invading force and they have been set up there for a long time waiting for the soldiers of the Republic to come,” the President said.
“And this is my take. Hinayaan kasi natin ang droga (We did not focus on illegal dugs before). So there was a time and until now that the terrorism activities in the Philippines is funded and fueled by drug money. Alam namin na wala masyadong tulong ang ISIS sa Middle East” (We know there is not much help from ISIS in the Middle East).
“Nakukuha namin ‘yung ipinapadala nila (We can determine what they send) by just examining papers and one of those who were really this recipient of a huge amount was a member of the Philippine National Police, ‘yung si Nobleza,” the President said.
Supt. Maria Cristina Nobleza, then Deputy chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP) regional Crime Laboratory in Davao City, was arrested in Bohol for aiding Abu Sayyaf members escape after they were trapped after they attacked Inabanga town in Bohol.
Duterte did not say how much the “huge amount” was. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)