MANILA – The number of people who have died in the nearly 2-month long siege in Marawi City has breached the 500 mark, official government data show.
Malacañang said that as of the evening of July 9, Sunday, 507 people have died since the crisis in Marawi started on May 23.
Of the 507 people who died, 379 were terrorists, according to Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary Marie Banaag.
Civilian death toll remains at 39, while government fatalities are now at 89, Banaag said.
Government offensives in Marawi City will enter its eighth week on Tuesday, July 11, but the terrorists who have pledged allegiance to international terrorist network Islamic State have shown no signs of giving up despite relentless bombings and ground operations of state troops.
From the original number of forces of about 500, the military said the number of terrorists still holed up in the city is now down to about 80. These include leaders of the Maute group and Abu Sayyaf senior leader Isnilon Hapilon.
The military has been having a hard time retaking parts of Marawi still controlled by the terrorists, as snipers from the enemy side still lurk around the conflict zone. Government forces were also being careful in advancing towards enemy positions due to the presence of booby traps.
While the government has put the civilian death toll at 39, the military believes this could “increase significantly” as troops have yet to reach other parts of the city where some trapped civilians were feared to have been executed.
Armed Forces Spokesperson Brigadier General Restituto Padilla, however, dismissed claims that the civilian death toll was being understated by government.
"Many accusations can be hurled, that’s why there’s a call for us to be very judicious about what we believe in,” he said. "We don’t raise the number of casualties until we are sure about the death."
Clashes erupted in the predominantly Islamic city on May 23 when terrorists led by the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups captured parts of the city and killed civilians in a bid to establish an Islamic State province in the Philippines.
The clashes prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to place the entire Mindanao under martial law.
Meanwhile, as a prolonged battle with the terrorists is expected, government has started setting up a tent city to accommodate some of the city’s displaced residents.
About 400,000 civilians from Marawi and outlying areas have also been displaced as a result of the fighting.
"The early recovery stage is going to occur even while hostilities are ongoing. And this early recovery stage will pave the way for the preparation of the ground for the temporary resettlement area while Bangon Marawi is capacitating itself and organizing itself to embark on the full recovery at the end of hostilities,” Padilla said, referring to the task force created to expedite the recovery and rehabilitation of the conflict-torn city.
The emergence of groups pledging allegiance to Islamic State has been considered the biggest security problem to face the year-old Duterte administration.
The rise of pro-ISIS groups in the country has also raised alarm in Washington and the Philippines’ neighbors in the region, which fear that the notorious terror group was seeking to establish a new front in Asia amid its successive losses in Iraq and Syria.