Fighting down to last 500 square meters
Gov't braces for hostage crisis, bombings
MANILA - Child warriors are aiding Islamic State-linked extremists who are mounting a last stand in Marawi City as state troops hoped to end the 3-month terror rampage in the next few days, the military said Monday.
"Ayon po kasi sa mga nakausap na ng ating mga sundalo -- iyung mga sibilyan na nakatakas po sa pagiging hostage -- talaga pong mayroong mga bata, mga menor de edad na andoon sa hanay ng mga Maute," said Col. Edgar Arevalo, Armed Forces public affairs chief.
"Nakumbinsi nilang maging kapanalig nila, inarmasan at kasalukuyang lumalaban sa ating mga sundalo."
(According to civilians who were held hostage, there are really minors among the Maute ranks. The terrorists convinced the children to join them and armed them. They are now fighting our soldiers.)
Arevalo's statement came after a mother said her son, who was kidnapped 7 years ago, could be one of the child warriors fighting in Marawi City.
Rowhanisa Abdul Jabar said her son Ram-Ram, who was kidnapped when he was 3 years old, now resembles an armed child, whose photo was posted online by IS, the Inquirer reported Sunday.
The intelligence community is verifying the photo's authenticity and whether the child shown was Ram-ram, Arevalo told DZMM.
The military in 2016 declassified and shared videos showing Maute fighter conducting drills with children wearing ISIS headbands in an unknown location.
Last July, a child warrior nabbed by authorities told ABS-CBN News that the Maute started recruiting underage fighters as early as 2009, around the same time that they planned the siege of Marawi.
CAPTIVES ON THE LINE, BOMBS IN PLACE
Arevalo said security forces have confined the fighting to 500 square meters within Marawi and could end the battle "in a few days."
The 50 to 60 remaining extremists however are expected to use the last of their captives as human shields and set off bombs in the war zone, said the official.
"Patuloy ang ating nagiging maingat na pagkilos sapagkat alam naman nating andoon sila sa kanilang last stand na tinatawag natin," said Arevalo.
"Talagang hahanap ng sablay ang mga ito. Iyung mga improvised explosive devices na inilatag nila along our way, may mga civilan silang gagamitin as hostages, gagamitin nilang human shield."
(We continue to be careful because we know that they are on their so-called last stand. They will take advantage of any blunder, they have planted bombs along our way and they will also use hostages as human shields.)
Despite the danger, Arevalo said troop morale remained high due to President Rodrigo Duterte's third visit in the battle zone last Thursday.
"Sa katunayan, sa isang pagkakataon, he (Duterte) even walked na wala pong bulletproof vest patungo po doon sa area kung saan andoon ang ating mga sugatang sundalo. Personal niyang kinamusta at kinausap ang ating mga sugatang sundalo," he said.
Some 700 people, mostly terror suspects, have reportedly died in clashes between the military and terrorists aiming to establish an Islamic State province in Mindanao. The entire region remains under martial rule.