MANILA – The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Monday said the option of bombing mosques and other places of worship in Marawi City where the Maute group and other rebels are holed up remains on the table.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Brigadier General Restituto Padilla said, while the military remains apprehensive about bombing places of worship to flush out terrorists, there are provisions in international law that allow such a move. He, however, said the military was still studying this move.
"There are provisions that will allow for us to take action against them. Pinagaaralan naming mabuti. Hindi ko sasabihing titirahin pero pinagaaralan naming mabuti,” he said in a press briefing at the Palace.
"There are provisions, may exception ‘yun. Maski sinong taong armado na nag-harbor sa isang lugar maging hospital man ito o places of worship, kung sila ay nagpupumilit at manatili doon, may provision internationally na pwede silang gamitan ng karahasan."
Padilla was most likely referring to The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, which calls on party states to prevent destruction of cultural properties.
This provision in the pact, however, may be waived if the military deems it to be necessary.
Padilla said, while government troops have isolated the enemies to less than 10 percent of the city, clearing the conflict area has proven to be a difficult task as the terrorists were using civilians as human shields and taking refuge in mosques.
“[The] area is contained, our forces on the ground control anyone who comes in and out, and we have localized these pockets of resistance to specific areas,” he said.
"We have done all our best and we have been operating 24/7. This operation will continue at that phase, we will not change that. But again, complications have been coming out… What we mean by this is the continued use of the civilians, potential hostages [who] may still be in their hands, the use of places of worship, for one, which prevents us from going all out, and other factors that complicate the battle because of its urban terrain.”
Padilla echoed Duterte’s earlier statement that government troops have the means to go all-out against the militants, but that the presence of trapped civilians in conflict areas is preventing them from carrying out intensified operations.
"Kaya’t tulad ng binigay na abiso, ng guidance ng ating Chief of Staff, si General Año, mariin niyang ipinagutos sa lahat ng ating mga tropa ng… bigyan ng importansya dito ay ang buhay ng sibilyan, na wala dapat magiging biktima ng ano mang karahasan, ng ano mang pagkakataon na maiwasan natin ang collateral damage, dapat gawin natin,” he said.
"That is the primordial concern… Those are the factors that make our troops less capable of expeditiously addressing many of these threats.”