MANILA - The government believes a video showing the abducted Catholic priest appealing for a stop in military offensives in Marawi City was merely a propaganda by terrorists.
“The propaganda of the enemy… are indicative of their fighting for survival. They are trapped. They are contained. They are in areas that they will never come out alive unless they surrender,” Armed Forces spokesperson Brigadier General Restituto Padilla said.
“And that’s why we are asking them and we are appealing to these armed men to come to their senses, lay down their weapons and surrender,” he added.
Padilla said the military’s technical staff have started examining the video featuring abducted priest Teresito “Chito” Suganob, although there was no information yet if the details in his message were accurate.
Padilla said while the video seemed authentic, “there lies in the real reason for coming up with the video, which is propaganda purposes.”
In the video, Suganob appealed to the government to halt military offensives in Marawi City.
Padilla said Suganob was obviously under duress when he gave the message and the military would not fall for the enemy’s propaganda.
Efforts to rescue an estimated 1,000 trapped residents in the city remain, added Padilla.
The option of conducting backchannel talks between the terrorists and non-government organizations willing to help state forces was also being explored.
“We are not negotiating. We are merely working closely with organizations whose objective is to save more lives,” he said.
As the siege entered its first week, the number of slain terrorists have risen to 89, the government said.
The number of civilian casualties remain at 19, although Padilla said there is an ongoing validation of reports of other civilian deaths.
The casualties on the government side, meanwhile, is now at 21.
Padilla also assured that no civilian died during the air strikes by the military, saying government troops are only using a force “commensurate” to the resistance it faces.
The military has also taken control of about 90 percent of the city.
“However, that 10 percent is most likely going to be the area that will be heavily guarded and defended by any of these armed men if they are protecting any individual of high value,” Padilla said.
President Rodrigo Duterte placed Mindanao under military rule after government troops clashed with the Maute group and its cohorts in Marawi City.
The clashes erupted as state forces tried to arrest Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, considered one of the most wanted terrorists by the US. According to Padilla, Hapilon could still be in Marawi City.