MARINES recovered P79.2 million in cash and checks from a fallen Maute group house in Marawi City as fighting raged on, military officials said Tuesday.
The troops first found P52.2 million in cash wrapped in plastic bundles and in envelopes inside a house near the Maute group’s machine gun nest in the Mapandi area, said Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla.
The troops then found checks worth P27 million in the same house, all paid to cash.
“The money and checks were duly secured and turned over to Headquarters Task Force Marawi,” Padilla said.
Investigators are looking into the cash and checks to determine if the Maute terrorists were being funded by foreign groups or “narco-politicians,” an intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity said.
Earlier reports said the terrorists ransacked several banks, including the Land Bank of the Philippines and the Philippine National Bank during the course of fighting, which entered its 15th day on Tuesday.
The intelligence official said the terrorists had been using the cash to recruit civilians into their fold to fight the government troops.
“That’s why their numbers suddenly grew, because they used the money to recruit others into joining their fight against us,” the intelligence official said.
As of June 4, based on a military report obtained by the Manila Standard, 115 terrorists—including three foreigners—had been killed, contradicting earlier reports that 10 foreigner fighters had died in the fighting.
A total of 38 government troops and policemen have been killed in action and 143 others were wounded. The military said 19 civilians were killed in the clashes, while 1,236 were rescued from the hands of the terrorists.
Government forces have seized 95 high-powered firearms from the Maute and Abu Sayyaf terrorists.
AFP chief Gen. Eduardo Año said they were on track to finishing the battle for Marawi City in three days.
In Congress, a House leader said Tuesday that the cash and checks recovered from the Maute group house could have come from narco-politicians.
“It could be drug money,” said Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers, chairman of the House committee on dangerous drugs. “The Maute fighters do not have legitimate businesses.”
Barbers said his panel intends to conduct a congressional probe to find out how the Maute group got hold of such money.
The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas said it would try to identify the source of the Maute loot.
Incoming Bangko Sentral Governor Nestor Espenilla Jr., who will succeed outgoing Governor Amando Tetangco Jr. on July 3, said the central bank has experts who can help trace the source of the funds.
“You have to first look at the physical evidence. We have experts who can do that so it has to be looked into,” Espenilla said.
Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said the recovery of the funds debunked some claims that troops were involved in looting in the war-torn city.
“The AFP clearly shows it’s doing its job with honor and integrity and stands on moral high ground,” Abella said.
Senator Panfilo Lacson said the authorities need to move quickly to identify the financiers of the Maute terrorists that attacked Marawi City and other co-conspirators.
The owner of the house where the money was found should be investigated, he added.
He also raised the possibility that the loot could have been taken by the Maute attackers from the banks in Marawi City.
“Either way, I take my hat off to our soldiers,” Lacson said.
“No matter how battle-weary they are and considering the risk of life they’re going through, they were not tempted with the prospect of a comfortable life for themselves and their families. Instead, and stuck to their honor and integrity as professional members of the AFP,” he added. With Maricel V. Cruz, Macon Ramos-Araneta and Julito G. Rada