MANILA — Malacañang on Monday condemned the alleged plans of the Islamic State-inspired Maute group to use civilian hostages as suicide bombers if cornered by state forces.
“We have been receiving accounts from hostages who were able to escape from the Maute rebels in Marawi that the enemies would be using using hostages as suicide bombers once they were cornered by government troops,” Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said at a Palace briefing.
“We strongly denounce these desperate actions which apparently are carefully calculated to create a violent reaction from the general populace in order to create tension between ethnic groups, which the terrorist groups expect to work in favor of their cause,” Abella said.
Three escaped hostages had earlier told authorities about the group’s plan.
Romar Marjalino, his brother Roel, and Jimmy Esperat said the terrorists are planning to strap explosives to their hostages before freeing them.
With this development, Abella said ensuring the safety of hostages is of paramount importance.
“We, however, assure our people that government forces will continue to abide by the rules of engagement to ensure the safety of hostages particularly women and children in our drive to clear Marawi of all armed elements,” Abella said.
“No less than the Commander-in-Chief has given this primordial consideration and guidance to our troops,” Abella said.
The Marawi City rebellion on Monday entered its 84th day.
Official reports showed that 562 extremists have been killed in the almost three months of fighting.
On the other hand, 128 security forces have been reported killed in action.
According to Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson, Brig. Gen Restituto Padilla Jr., the remaining Maute fighters are now trapped in parts of two villages in the city that is less than a square kilometer in area.
He said the number of enemy forces is also getting smaller but the complexity of the battle environment — which encompasses well-built buildings in the heart of the city’s business district — makes it harder to move.
He added that while ground commanders estimate that there are less than 40 fighters remaining, their ability to inflict harm on security forces remains.
“Their capacity to inflict harm is still there because they still have arms, they still have adequate ammunition and they still continue to hold hostages. So that’s the compounding factor,” the AFP official said.
However, he assured that government forces are doing everything to secure the lives of the remaining hostages.
“The only thing that we’re really seeking to do is to be able to rescue them safe and sound, alive, at the conclusion of this fighting. And we’re doing that,” Padilla said. (PNA)