Marawi combat zone now limited to 3 villages- Esperon

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 21 2017 04:55 PM

MANILA– The combat zone in Marawi City now cover just three barangays as only about 60 to 70 terrorists remain holed up in the battlefield nearly two months since the conflict erupted, the country’s top security adviser said Friday.

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said Islamic State-linked terrorists, led by the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups, are now only occupying less than a square kilometer.

“This is where we have the built-up area, the center of the poblacion of Marawi. And so, we expect a slower advance but, nonetheless, our troops are determined and they have learned so much from the past experiences,” Esperon said in a news conference.

Esperon added that President Rodrigo Duterte also expressed optimism that the crisis would soon be over.

“The President was able to give the commanders on the ground the way ahead, what he expects to do, what he expects of the troops but he is very positive that we will be able to take Marawi in a few more days and start right off with the reconstruction and rehabilitation,” he said.

Duterte placed Mindanao under martial law on May 23 after the ISIS-inspired extremists laid siege on Marawi, one of the most important Islamic cities in the predominantly Catholic Philippines.

He has asked Congress to extend martial rule until the end of the year. 

At least 571 people, mostly terrorists, have been killed since violence erupted in the city, a portion of which is now in ruins due to relentless gun battles and military air strikes. 

On Thursday, Duterte fulfilled his promise to visit the city amid the ongoing battle, telling the troops that “your life is not less important than mine.”

“I grieve maski doon sa namatay na mga civilian. Ganun rin para sa akin lalo na sa sundalo na ako ang nag-utos na pumunta kayo dito para makipag-away at mamatay. Pero ang masasabi ko lang, panahon panahon man rin ang buhay, kaya ako nagpilit rin (pumunta) dito,” he said.

“Sabi ko pupunta talaga ako. Sabi ko, kung panahon ko na, panahon ko na. Wala na tayong magawa diyan. But I have to be there, nagbisita talaga ako, kasi gusto kong malaman ninyo, isa lang tayo,” he said.

MASSIVE LOOT?

Meanwhile, a source who spoke on condition of anonymity told reporters that extremists who remain in the city refuse to leave because of their massive loot.

“Mayroon silang 70 bags sa looting, which is about P20 million per bag,” the source said.

The source added that government captured the supposed loot on video.

In the early days of the clashes, about P79 million in cash and checks were found in one of the houses in the city.

Military officials explained then that finding loads of cash in houses of Muslim families is not surprising due to Islamic laws and their low trust in the banking system.