MANILA - More hostages than earlier thought remain in the hands of terrorists in Marawi City, the military said Saturday citing information from rescued captives.
Col. Romeo Brawner, deputy commander of Joint Task Group Ranao, said this in a press briefing Saturday morning, citing information from 17 hostages rescued from the Islamic State-linked Maute group earlier this week.
"There are estimated to be between 40 to 60 hostages. The Maute is [estimated to number around] 38 to 48. Ito po ang revelation sa atin ng mga hostages natin (This is what the hostages revealed)," said Brawner.
The military had earlier estimated that 20 hostages remain in the hands of terrorists.
"We believe we were not able to see everybody. Marami pa ring nakatago sa mga basement (There were many others hiding in basements)," he said.
Brawner said the remaining hostages were scattered and hidden in different mosques and buildings in the battlefield, estimated to have shrunken to between five to seven hectares.
“Some of the hostages were given firearms and forced to fight with Maute/ISIS. They are considered combatants. Our government forces are allowed, for self-defense, to neutralize these combatants” he added.
He said terrorists still control several structures in the area, including mosques.
“Marami pa silang kontrolado na structures, a little less than 200, may mga structures na kinokontrol na significant like mosques, meron pa dalawang mosque (There are still many structures under their control, a little less than 200, some are significant like mosques, there are still 2 mosques),” Brawner said.
While running out of food and ammunition, the terrorists continue to fortify their defensive positions in areas they still occupy.
Brawner said that despite a change of command in the Philippine Army, its newly installed chief Major General Rolando Bautista, 1st Infantry Division commander Brigadier General Roselier Morillo, and Joint Task Group Marawi leader Major General Danilo Pamonag have said there would not be any tactical changes in the offensives.
Instead, there will be "renewed operations" aimed at finishing the the fighting, which has been going on for nearly five months now.
"Wala pong pagbabago sa taktika (There will be no changes in tactics), pero (but) the chief encouraged our soldiers to push harder in accomplishing the mission, which is to finish the crisis... so the recovery effort can continue full blast," Brawner said.
The military will also continue air strikes targeting remaining terrorist strongholds to "soften Maute defenses," Brawner said, as booby traps still make it difficult for Philippine troops to stage a ground assault.
On Wednesday, the military rescued 17 hostages—nine men and eight women, including teachers who had been held captive since the start of the siege on May 23.
Those rescued are currently “undergoing a process” in Marawi City, Brawner said. He said they were already able to talk to their loved ones through mobile phones.
One hostage, he said, was rushed to Cagayan de Oro for treatment after being hit by shrapnel.
Over 770 terrorists and 157 government forces have been killed in 138 days of fighting in Marawi City as of Saturday morning, Brawner said.
At least 1,750 civilians have also been rescued by the military.
-- with a report from Ron Gagalac, ABS-CBN News