MANILA, Philippines – The military is verifying reports that Islamists extremists have already penetrated Iligan, the city next to Marawi where thousands of residents of the war-torn Lanao del Sur capital had evacuated.
Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), on Thursday said local government units (LGU) feared that terrorists had already reached Iligan by mingling with evacuees from Marawi.
“Ito po’y isang concern po ng LGU na ipinarating po sa atin dahil sa pangamba po nila na maaaring may nakapasok na po na armado sa mga evacuees,” said Padilla in an interview with radio dzMM on Thursday.
He said authorities are now working “double-time” to make sure that no armed rebels would be able to force their way into Iligan while evacuees transit and transfer places.
“At kung mayroon man pong nakahalo ay pinaiigting po natin ang mga security measures natin upang hindi po magkaroon ng pag-aantala o anumang panggugulo sa lugar ng Iligan,” Padilla said.
[And even if they had already mingled with the evacuees, we are intensifying our security measures to prevent any delay or disturbance in Iligan.]
Asked if it was possible that extremists had been retreating to Iligan because government troops had already reclaimed most areas in Marawi from Maute-led forces, Padilla said authorities were making sure it won’t happen.
“Ang atin pong ginawa sa Marawi, ‘yong mga lugar po na kinaroroonan no’ng mga nakaraang araw ay…sinaraduhan ho natin. At hindi po basta-basta makakalabas ang sinuman kung hindi natin pinahihintulutan,” he said.
[We are closing areas in Marawi where extremists had been located. And nobody can just leave without our permission.]
He said government forces had sealed off four of the 96 Marawi barangays where Maute rebels were concentrated. Padilla did not name the villages for security purposes.
“So itong apat po na lugar na ito sini-seal-off po natin ang passenger exit para makasigurado tayo na kung sakaling…may tumakas d’yan, di po basta-basta,” said Padilla.
[We sealed off the passengers exits in these four barangays to make it difficult for them to escape.]
The AFP spokesperson said troop movements in Marawi had remarkably improved as the four barangays that used to be “areas of resistance” are now just “concerned areas.”
“Nagiging maganda na po ang ating paggalaw d’yan. ‘Yong mga lugar po na dati di tayo makapasok dahil may haharang sa ating nagpapaputok, wala na po ito. ‘Yong apat pong barangay na sinasabi natin, ‘yan po nananatili na lang na concerned areas natin pero di na kalakihan ang resistance na nararamdaman natin,” said Padilla.
“Kung noon, pag pumasok ka…ikaw ay sasalubungin ng volumes of fire na tinatawag, ngayon ay wala na pong gano’n, panaka-naka na lang. Kung meron man, mabilis nating natutugunan kung saan nanggagaling ito,” said the AFP official.
[If before, upon entering the enemy’s lair, you would be greeted by volumes of fire, now, there’s nothing more like that, it’s just occasional. If there is, we are able to immediately address it and know where it came from.]
“So by and large, kung ating susumahin, ‘yong bilang ng mga naiwan d’yan…ay bumaba na. Maaaring low on ammunition na sila…[So by and large, if we would sum it up, the number of remaining rebels has already decreased. Maybe they are already low on ammunition],” added Padilla.