October 17, 2017, 6:05 am
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400 structures left for clearing in Marawi

AROUND 400 structures are still subject to clearing operations by government forces in Marawi City where a small group of Maute Group members remain.

Capt. Jo-ann Petinglay, spokeswoman of the military’s Western Mindanao Command and of the Joint Task Force Marawi, implied the operation may take some more time, noting troops have been clearing only 10 to 15 structures a day over the past two weeks.

“By this time, we are still clearing more than 400 structures in a one square kilometer area. But this one square kilometer is in a main business district with a lot of structures... The daily average (of structures being cleared) is 10 to 15,” Petinglay said.

The clearing rate disclosed by Petinglay is way below the 40 to 50 structures a day rate early last month.

Asked why the clearing operation is slowing down, Petinglay said: “Because the structures are higher now and there are many IEDs that were laid. We’re in a smaller area and we’re also thinking about the safety of the hostages. Those are the challenges now.”

On Saturday, troops were able to clear 10 structures, lower that the previous day. “This actually depends on (how big is) the structure. There are days when we are able to clear just five,” she said.

Petinglay would not say the military’s projection as to when it will accomplish its mission of liberating the city. Last week, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the operation may still take one or two months.

“That could be the report given to him by the ground commanders... that’s why he said it may take two more months... This actually depends on the enemy resistance and what the enemy will do with the hostages,” said Petinglay.

“If there are no hostages (in the hands of the Maute Group), this is probably over in one day or five days at the most. Our operations are delayed due to the presence of the hostages,” said Petinglay.

Petinglay said there are about 50 Maute members, holding at least 40 hostages, in the main battle area.

Citing accounts of four hostages recently rescued, Petinglay said about 20 to 30 Maute members are staying in a mosque. She said most of the hostages are being kept in the same mosque.

Petinglay also said a new round of fighting broke out yesterday but could not immediately say the result.

“The firefight was somehow intense though we have no significant information about it, or the structures that were declared cleared... The firefight this morning was a little intense,” Petinglay said.

The conflict that started on May 23 has killed 560 Maute members, 128 soldiers and policemen. and 45 civilians. It has also resulted in the recovery of 618 assorted firearms.

On Saturday, AFP chief Gen. Eduardo Año visited wounded soldiers, including those involved in the Marawi operations, at the military hospital inside the Western Mindanao Command headquarters in Camp Navarro in Zamboanga City.

“The Armed Forces of the Philippines is proud of you. Get well soon, brave soldiers,” said Año. “We are seeing the end of the Marawi armed conflict with more than 560 terrorists slain in the battle area.”

The Department of Justice will start the preliminary investigation today on the rebellion charges filed against 59 suspected Maute group members nabbed by the authorities in Zamboanga city and Zamboanga Sibugay last month.

Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Peter Ong said the suspects will submit their respective counter-affidavits during the preliminary investigation.

The suspects were presented to Ong’s panel on July 28 after being flown from Zamboanga to Manila. During the presentation, the suspects decided to waive their detention and asked the prosecutors to proceed with the preliminary investigation of the case.

Under the rules on criminal procedure, arrested individuals may opt to undergo a regular preliminary investigation by signing a waiver of detention and if not, the prosecutor assigned to handle the case will submit it for resolution and then determine if there is probable cause for indictment before a trial court.

Thirty-two of the suspects, detained in Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City, were apprehended in a checkpoint in Ipil town, Zamboanga Sibugay while the rest were arrested in a house along Daisy Road, Zamboanga city where military and police uniforms as well as combat boots were recovered in their possession.

The military said upon interrogation, the suspects claimed they are members of the Moro National Liberation Front and were going to attend training at Camp Jabal Nur in Lanao del Sur, prior to their integration into the military. The MNLF leadership has denied the men were their members.

The military said they suspected the group was part of those being recruited to reinforce members of the Maute in Marawi City. – With Ashzel Hachero
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