Brawner says “no more hostages remaining;” expects end of fighting “today”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews /22 October) — Government forces battling terrorists confined in only one building near the lake are expecting to end the 153-day Marawi Crisis before midnight Sunday, confident that the remaining hostages held by the Maute Group have all been rescued, Col. Romeo Brawner, deputy commander of Task Force Ranao said.

“We believe there are no more hostages remaining,” Brawner told a press briefing at the provincial capitol early Sunday afternoon.

He said they “exhausted all means to rescue the remaining hostages.”

At the press conference announcing the death of the Abu Sayyaf’s Isnilon Hapilon and the Maute Group’s Omar Maute on October 16, General Eduardo Ano, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines said he was “certain that the neutralization of Hapilon and Omar was the last straw that has broken the camel’s back” and that the then 147-day Marawi Crisis “will be over — sooner than later.”

“The resistance of  –or what is left of it  — the terrorists will crumble. It’s a dead end. There is nowhere else to go for them,” he said.

Col. Romeo Brawner, Deputy Commander of Task Force Ranao/ MindaNwes file photo by H. MARCOS C. MORDENO

A day later, President Rodrigo Duterte declared Marawi has been “liberated from the terrorist influence” and rehabilitation would start soon, even as an estimated 30 hostages were still holding some 22 hostages then.

Two were rescued on October 18 in the military operations that killed 13, including Malaysian national Dr. Mahmud Abad.

On Sunday, Brawner told reporters 20 more hostages were rescued.

Brawner quoted Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, chief of the Western Mindanao Command, as saying “maaring matapos ngayong araw na ito”  (that the fighting would be over today).

“Our government forces will try to do everything to finish the firefight today,” Brawner said.

“It means it’s either mapatay nila lahat ng Maute ISIS  kasi nga po ito na yung desididong mamatay lahat or ma-capture natin or either mag-surrender sila” (it’s either all the Maute ISIS members are killed because these are those who are decided to die there or we capture them or they surrender), he explained.

He said some of them “are the ones who decided to just fight it out because of their belief that if they die here, they will go to heaven.”

As of Sunday noon, he said, “talagang nagpuputukan pa” (fighting was still going on) in that “one building left to clear.”

As of Sunday, Day 153 of the Marawi Crisis, Brawner said a total of 919 enemies had been killed while 165 government forces were killed in action.

He said an estimated 30 terrorists remain, including those who were wounded earlier. Of this number, around five are foreigners.

“Right now we cannot determine how many of the 30 are dead or who are still living,” he said.

But Brawner said there are also women, likely the wives of the Maute members, in that lone building,

“We believe they really chose to stay with their husbands,”  he said, recalling that they “gave them all the chances to surrender, to come out together with teh hostages.”

“In fact, some of them did,” Brawner said, but could not give a number as they are still determining “if they are (hostage survivors) or wives of the Maute-ISIS.”  He said those who got out will be treated as non-combatants and will go through the same process hostage survivors go through.

Brawner assured relatives of the hostage survivors that their loved ones are being attended to. He said the survivors immediately go through medical examination and those who need further medical attention are airlifted to Cagayan de Oro City.

He said survivors were lent mobile phones to call their relatives.  Brawner added the hostages requested that their names be withheld for security considerations.

He assured relatives they will turn the hostage survivors to the local goverment unit “very shortly.”  (MindaNews)