MARAWI—Two thousand fearful civilians were trapped on Sunday inside Marawi City where troops have been battling Islamist militants for almost a week, authorities said.
The military intensified a bombing campaign on parts of Marawi, one of the biggest Muslim cities, as it accused the gunmen of atrocities including murdering women and a child.
The initial fighting prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law on Tuesday across the entire island of Mindanao to quell what he said was a fast-growing threat from terrorists linked to the Islamic State (IS) group.
Most of the city’s 200,000 residents have fled because of the fighting, but 2,000 remain trapped in areas controlled by the militants, said Zia Alonto Adiong, spokesman for the provincial crisis management committee.
“They have been sending us text messages, calling our hotline, requesting us to send rescue teams but we cannot simply go to areas which are inaccessible to us,” Adiong said.
“They want to leave. They are afraid for their safety. Some are running out of food to eat. They fear they will be hit by bullets, by airstrikes,” he said.
The military announced on Saturday, the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, that it would step up the bombing.
“In as much as we would like to avoid collateral damage, these rebels are forcing the hand of government by hiding and holding out inside private homes, government buildings and other facilities,” said military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla.
“Their refusal to surrender is holding the city captive. Hence, it is now increasingly becoming necessary to use more surgical airstrikes to clear the city and to bring this rebellion to a quicker end.”
The militants have killed at least 19 civilians, including three women and a child who were found dead near a university, said regional military spokesman Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera.
“These are civilians, women. These terrorists are anti-people,” Herrera said.
In Iligan City, state forces conducted house-to-house inspections in response to a threat that local terrorists would raze the city to the ground.
City Mayor Celso Regencia ordered city and village officials, accompanied by the military and police, to conduct the census after the city received a report Saturday night that the Maute Group would burn five villages in the city’s downtown district.
In a telephone interview Sunday morning, Iligan City spokesman Joe Pantoja identified the villages as Tubod, Hinaplanon, Luinab, Mahayahay and Del Carmen, all located in the city’s downtown area. Forty percent of the residents in these villages are Muslims.
He said that the census team was accompanied by village and city officials so that village residents could easily be identified.
“Those without proper identification would be held for questioning,” Pantoja said.
“The city has adopted stricter measures by monitoring the movements of people from all walks of life to ensure the safety of the city residents,” Pantoja said.
Regencia appealed to Iligan City residents to cooperate with law enforcers on all security measures that the city might implement every now and then, Pantoja said.
He said that Iligan City was host to about 1,900 evacuees who fled from strife-torn Marawi, 38 kilometers southwest of Iligan.
In Davao City, the Philippine National Police said permits to carry firearms outside of residences have been suspended due to martial law.
Chief Insp. Andrea G. Dela Cerna, Police Regional Office (PRO-XI) spokesman, also said the right to public assembly, such as protests or rallies against the government, will be curtailed and the leaders or organizers of such events will be arrested.
Dela Cerna discouraged the public from traveling to avoid traffic due to the checkpoints set up by the PNP and the AFP.
Also on Sunday, Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi said the Energy Department is mapping out a plan to secure all energy facilities in Mindanao.