COTABATO CITY – The death toll in the military campaign against a terrorist group in Lanao del Sur rose to 37 as the Army pressed its offensive against the group which pledged allegiance to an international terrorist group.
Colonel Roseller Murillo, commander of the 103rd Infantry Brigade, told DXMS-AM Radyo Bida the number of fatalities could even go higher as the military intensified its offensive in the mountains of Butig, Lanao del Sur.
Murillo said the same group was also blamed for destroying vital transmission lines of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines in Lanao provinces.
He said the Maute brothers, which has about 300 armed followers, first harassed government forces securing a village captured by soldiers following skirmishes last February.
Fighting is still raging in Barangay Ragayan in Butig, with the military using its air assets to flush out the armed men deep into the forest.
Murillo said the group was behind the beheading of two innocent civilians before the fighting erupted last week.
He said the group was engaged in extortion and kidnapping of six persons working in a sawmill in Iligan City.
Involved in the operation were elements of 5th Mechanized Infantry Battalion and 51st Infantry Battalion backed by two helicopter gunships and OV-10 bomber planes.
“We cannot say when this operation will end but as long as there are terrorists in the villages of Butig, our operation will continue,” he said.
Murillo said two soldiers were killed while nine others were injured in the ongoing firefight. Killed were Private First Class Danilo Allaga at Mark Ferdinand Ortaliza.
The skirmishes forced about 2,000 individuals to flee from Barangay Ragayan and nearby villages.
Maharlanny Alonto, Lanao del Sur provincial social welfare officer said the displaced families were from the villages of Coloyan, Samer, Bayabao, Poctan, Raya Timbab and Sandab.
The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) emergency unit had already sent relief aid to affected families.
ARMM Vice Gov. Al-Rashid Alonto Lucman said the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is also coming to provide assistance to the evacuees.