MARAWI CITY (MindaNews / 10 October) — Seventeen hostages of the Maute Group were reported rescued by the military at around 2 a.m. Wednesday, October 4, Day 135 of the Marawi Crisis. As of 6 p.m. Tuesday, October 10, the 17 survivors, whose names have yet to be revealed, were still in military custody.
Asked when the survivors would be reunited with their families, Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, chief of the Western Mindanao Command told a press briefing on Monday that their plan is “Tuesday or Wednesday.”
He said arrangements have been made, including travel details and who will fetch or receive them. As of 6 p.m. Tuesday, however, there were no indications the hostage survivors had been reunited with their families.
On Saturday, Col. Romeo Brawner, deputy commander of Joint Task Force Ranao told a press briefing that the families of the survivors had been informed and mobile phones were lent to them so they could talk with their loved ones.
He gave scant details about the survivors: nine males and eight females, their ages ranging from 18 to 75. He did acknowledge a reporter’s query about the five female teachers of Dansalan College as among the 17.
“We understand that the relatives of the hostages are worried about their relatives but we want to assure their family and friends na yung mga na-rescue po natin na hostages ay treated well by the troops and the police,” Brawner said, adding the hostages are still “going through a process,” including medical attention and “aside from that, we have to determine their involvement also in this crisis lalo na po yung mga lalaki (especially the men). Some of them were forced to handle weapons especially at night.”
He could not say when the survivors would be set free. “We cannot give you a specific number of days. It depends really on the situation,” he said.
During the press briefing on Monday, Brawner showed a flowchart of the “process” that survivors have to go through once they are out of the war zone: medical and physical examination to determine the person’s condition and if he or she would require further medical attention; determination of their involvement in terrorism which is to be done by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) of the Philippine National Police; and if cleared by the CIDG, they are turned over to the Marawi City government and the Provincial Crisis Management Committee.
He said most of the survivors were still undergoing the CIDG stage.
Asked if there was an instance where a former hostage was not cleared by the CIDG, Galvez replied, “lahat ng hostages cleared.”
Galvez told MindaNews Tuesday night that the CIDG is “still processing” the male survivors.
23 since Sept. 16
A total of 23 hostages have been reported rescued since September 16, including Father Teresito “CHito” Soganub, the Vicar General ot the Prelature of Marawi and Catholic chaplain of the Mindanao State University, and a male teacher of Dansalan College on September 16; four hostages on September 21; and the 17 on October 4.
Fr. Chito’s family in Norala, South Cotabato found out about his escape and rescue on September 16 only through media reports. The military kept mum on September 16 but the Prelature of Marawi, citing sources from the military, issued a press statement that same day welcoming the news of Fr. Chito’s freedom. The military broke its silence only when they presented the priest briefly in a press conference afternoon on September 17.
Fr. Chito is undergoing trauma healing but remains in military custody nearly a month since he got out of the war zone .
Late evening on September 21, the wife of one of the four rescued hostages told MindaNews several persons had informed her that her husband and companions were already out of the war zone and were in the custody of the military. On September 23, she was still waiting for official confirmation from the military that, indeed, her husband was among the four.
Galvez told MindaNews in a text message on September 23 that they had spoken with the family. “They (hostage survivors) have to undergo thorough debriefing to save other 40 plus remaining hostages,”
“Kung release tayo nang release without debriefing, paano na yung iba?” (If we release and release without debriefing, what will happen to the other hostages), Galvez asked.
The husband and his three companions were released from military custody on September 25.
Samira Ali Gutoc of the Ranaw Rescue Team said survivors should be endorsed “not to the Army at first instance but to doctor, psychosocial counsellor with Meranao background for documentation.”
Asked what the protocol is in handling hostages who had escaped or had been rescued, Brawner replied: “when 17 hostages were rescued, immediately they were given medical attention, they went through a medical check up just like with Fr. Soganub and four others. Ganon po kaagad. That is the very first thing we do. Medical check up to determine if they (have) medical requirements.”
He said during the check up, one of the 17 was found to have required medical attention and was airlifted the same day to the Camp Evangelista Station Hospital in Cagayan de Oro but was later brought back to Marawi after treatment.
Brawner said relatives were informed “right away” that their loved ones were out of the war zone. “That same morning, the relatives of the hostages were informed. In fact they were lent celfones so that they could personally speak with their relatives,” he said.
Galvez explained they want to ensure survivors are attended to because “mas mahirap yung kanilang dinanas kaysa IDPs (their suffering is worse than the internally displaced persons)… Doble, doble depressing.” He cited the need for trauma healing and employment,
He said many are helping the soldiers and IDPs but the hostage survivors need help as ewll.
“I am appealing to generous Filipinos to help our hostages to recover and put their lives together again,” Galvez said.
“40 to 60”
Brawner said information from those who were rescued indicate the Maute Group is still holding “between 40 to 60” hostages and there are still “38 to 48” Maute Group members in the main battle area that now comprises “between five to seven hectares.”
Brawner on Monday acknowledged that the “40 to 60” estimate refers to the non-combatants, the 31 hostages and “31 to 33” Maute dependents Galvez was referring to.
Galvez said they treat the dependents of the Maute Group as non-combatants.
“They are civilians so they are not subjected to military operations,” he said, adding, “as much as possible, we want to isolate them so they will not become collateral (damage). That’s our rule of engagement.”
Galvez also noted that while the Maute leaders and Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, are still in Marawi along with “six to nine” foreign terrorists, the size of the main battle area is now down to “four to five hectares” and he is confident that the fighting would be over by October 15 as targeted.
As of 7 p.m. on Sunday, 774 enemies, 47 civilians and 158 soldiers had been killed since clashes between government forces and the Maute Group started on May 23.
Two more soldiers died on Monday, bringing to 160 the total number of soldiers killed in action as of Day 140 of the Marawi Crisis. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)