WATCH | Military says Maute Group getting weaker, denies 400 BIFF fighters to reinforce rebels

June 1, 2017 - 12:25 AM
A government soldier takes up position during a patrol along a deserted street in Marawi City, southern Philippines May 27, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

MANILA, Philippines – It has been more than a week since President Rodrigo Duterte proclaimed martial law in Mindanao and declared an all-out war against the Maute group sowing violence in Marawi.

Are government forces winning against the rebels or are the Islamist militants gaining strength, proving that they are fierce enemies?

Liuetenant Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera, spokesman of the Philippine Army’s 1st Infantry Division, on Wednesday indicated that Maute members were getting weaker as government troops continued ground and air attacks against the group that reportedly wanted to establish a wailayat or Islamic State province in Mindanao.

“They are running out of bullets. They are going house to house, searching for military-aged males to join them. Some are asking for food, some are asking for bullets and ammunition,” said Herrera, adding that of the 96 barangays in Marawi, only four had remained under Maute’s control.

According to Armed Forces spokesperson Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla, “Our fighting forces estimate that they are reaching about 90 percent completely cleared and a little bit more than 10 percent more to go.”

“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.

He added that government forces believed that former Abu Sayyaf senior leader Isnilon Hapilon “is still” in Marawi and “we believe that is why they’re putting up a very stiff resistance in the areas that they are still being held up and being cleared.”

The number of fatalities from the Maute side had risen to 89, which included eight alleged terrorists from Indonesia, Malaysia, Yemen, India, and Saudi Arabia, according to authorities.

“Out of the eight earlier identified, madami na doon sa kanila na-neutralize in successful operations. One of them is Sanusi, the religious figure who helped create Maute, who died in one of the operations. Another one is the Singaporean Muawiyah,” said Padilla.

But according to News5 sources, who requested anonymity, about 400 members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) arrived Tuesday night in Brgy. Ramain Bubong in Bubong, Lanao del Sur, which is just next to Marawi, allegedly to reinforce the rebels.

This was, however, denied by Armed Forces Public Affairs chief Col. Edgard Arevalo on Wednesday.

Earlier this week, news reports said Padilla had confirmed that the BIFF was aiding Maute and Abu Sayyaf extremists clashing with government troops in Marawi.

Lahat naman ng mga armadong grupong ito nagtutulungan… Iyong mga armado nila tumutulong sa kabila, nagsasanib pwersa iyan,” Padilla said. [All these armed groups are helping each other. They join forces.]

Last March, retired police general Rodolfo “Boogie” Mendoza Jr., who is now the president of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence, and Terrorism Research, linked BIFF’s attack in Maguindanao to the Maute Group’s offensive in Butig, Lanao del Sur.

Mendoza claimed that the BIFF and Maute attacks were test missions launched by the two groups to get recognition from ISIS. “Technically, that’s the best word, ISIS allies pending the formal acceptance.”

DOJ to form panel of prosecutors for complaints vs Maute members

Meanwhile, Department of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre on Wednesday said the DOJ would form a panel of prosecutors that would be in-charge of the cases that would be filed against Maute members.

Aguirre sent DOJ Undersecretary Renante Orceo to Iligan City to lead the formation of the panel that would handle inquest proceedings and preliminary investigations of the complaints that would be slapped on the militants.

Also, in a May 29 letter, Aguirre requested Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to designate special courts in Visayas or Luzon “to hear criminal cases to be filed in relation to this rebellion and other crimes which may be filed against members of the Maute Terror Group and other armed groups tagged as terrorists.”

He also asked Sereno to protect members of the judiciary who would hear the cases.

“With this in mind, justice may run its course without fear or violence and threat thereof”, the DOJ chief added.