MARAWI CITY - In a daring operation, soldiers and local government officials rescued 144 civilians trapped in the conflict zone in Marawi City early Saturday as firefights between government troops and Islamic State-inspired militants entered the twelfth day.
Rescuers walked several kilometers through barricades of the Maute group to reach safety, as soldiers provided cover fire. Some of them were shaking. The children have blank stares.
The operation was at first intended to rescue 79 people, whose employer is a respected community member and was recognized by some members of the Maute group. He negotiated the civilians' path to safety.
As they walked across the war zone, the civilians were stopped by the Maute group and asked if there were Christians among them. In defense of their companions, the civilians said they were all Muslims.
Among those rescued was 22-year-old Marjon Danio, who sustained a gunshot wound on his right leg. He was immediately treated at the emergency medical station at the provincial capitol.
"Bigla na lang may pumasok na bala sa bintana tapos tinamaan na ako. Pababa 'yung tama hindi ko na alam kung sa ISIS ba o sa mga sundalo" Danio said.
Rescuers had to climb walls and gates of houses to rescue residents trapped in the conflict zone.
The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao- Humanitarian Emergency Action and Response Team (ARMM- HEART) was able to rescue an old lady who could hardly walk after having no food and water for several days.
Also among those rescued were 17 residents trapped in a mosque in the battle area.
One of them were able to talk to Maute members who threatened to kill them when they refused to join them.
"Straight ang convincing nila sa mga kapwa namin na dapat sumama kami sa kanila para mag-Jihad," Muhammad Moka Tumog said.
"Kung totoo man 'yung dinadala nilang Jihad, sana tanggapin ng Allah, pero sa ganitong panahon na mismo nahihirapan mga kapwa nila, Muslim mapapatawad pa kaya sila ng Allah?" Tumog said.
One rescuer, however, received a report from one resident that members of one family were killed while trapped inside their residence in Brgy. Banggolo, one of the villages where clashes were still on going.
Abdulganie Alok, ARMM-HEART rescuer said at least 11 individuals were killed while they were caught in the crossfire as reported by the lone survivor who was still able to make a call last Wednesday.
It is unknown however if the caller, 17-year-old Abdullah Jalal Rascal, is still alive after he reported that he was wounded and losing blood.
"Pati tatay niya namatay na sa kasagsagan ng encounter at mayroon pang siyam patay rin lahat," said Alok.
"Sa tuwing mag-aattempt na makalabas ay tinatamanan sila ng mga sniper," he added, noting that Rascal could no longer be reached.
A still undetermined number of civilians remain trapped in the conflict-torn city nearly a week since the fighting began between state forces and Islamist militants.
Much of the city's population have evacuated to Iligan City and nearby towns.
As of Friday, the death toll in the Marawi siege has reached 175, including 120 terrorists, 36 government forces and 19 civilians.