YOUNG recruits of the Maute group may be sent to reinforce enemy front lines in Marawi City, a military spokesman said Saturday—as troops continue to rid the besieged city of terrorists, at the same time that sources said Isnilon Hapilon, the anointed ‘emir’ of Islamic State-inspired groups, might have already fled to Basilan.
In a radio interview, Armed Forces spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said desperate conditions of the Maute group might force them to finally use child fighters against government forces to prolong the infighting in Marawi City.
“Before, they were not in the front lines but since they’re already in a desperate state, they may be forced to use these children,“ Padilla said in a radio dzBB interview.
Padilla said troops would still attempt to rescue the young Maute group recruits.
“We’re doing our best to rescue the child fighters … and save the hostages,” he said.
In related developments:
• Government troops started scouring towns round Marawi for possible Maute sympathizers, a day after President Rodrigo Duterte warned of a possible terrorist spillover from Marawi City.
“We are trying to validate all these reports...As far as the center of Buldon, we have not been able to monitor any such recruitment, but there are isolated areas here,” said Col. Jesus Sarsagat, 603rd Brigade commander.
Sarsagat said army intelligence units were closely monitoring parts of the town near the Cararao complex as it might serve as a route to Butig, hometown of the Maute family.
Blocking operations along the border of Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao were already established even before news of a possible spillover surfaced, he said.
• Senator Ralph Recto on Saturday urged the government to help wounded soldiers in Marawi City by giving them a much bigger financial assistance and reward.
“If the injuries sustained by the wounded are so severe that they would require lifetime care and assisted living, then it is time to review if existing policies are enough to provide those,” Recto said.
Under existing rules, a soldier or a policeman permanently maimed during combat or operations, gets a one-time P250,000 financial aid. The senator wants this quadrupled to P1 million.
Recto called for the augmentation of the budget for the Comprehensive Social Benefits Program, which lists the aid to be extended to killed and wounded uniformed personnel, as it was based on an estimate of 681 personnel killed or wounded during the entire year.
He said: “The war in Marawi was not factored in. If guns need to be reloaded with ammo, the same is true for the funds of programs to help the wounded and the killed.
“The wounded are the other heroes of Marawi. They are casualties, too. They may not have paid the ultimate sacrifice to keep the peace, but their valor and courage are no less fierce.”
Padilla said the soldiers would be forced to retaliate and defend themselves if Maute child fighters would take up arms and fire at troops.
The military had earlier said they had cornered the Maute group in a 500-square-meter area in Marawi City, with terrorists’ leaders Abdullah and Omar Maute believed to be still in the area.
Government sources said another terrorist leader, Hapilon, remained alive but was no longer in Marawi after he had been seen in Basilan openly as the infighting reached more than a hundred days.
“There has been a rift going on, he’s being baited [to authorities],” sources said, adding there had been demoralization among terrorists ranks.
The military, however, has yet to officially confirm the information on Hapilon’s whereabouts.
An operation against Hapilon in Marawi City led to the Maute group’s siege last May 23, which prompted President Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao.
Earlier, Duterte said it was unlikely to lift martial law in Mindanao before the end of 2017 because of a possible spillover of violence brought about by the fighting in Marawi City to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Recto said the number of wounded servicemen in Marawi had exceeded the 1,000 mark by now.
The military does not provide a running tally of troops wounded since extremists overran the city on May 23.
But when officials of Armed Forces of the Philippines met with senators on the Marawi crisis prior to the special session of Congress last July 22 to tackle the extension of the state of martial law in Mindanao, the number of wounded government troops had reached 845 by then, Recto said.
“That was the reported figure as of July 17. At that time, the report was 823 AFP personnel wounded plus 22 from the police. That was the figure 47 days ago,” Recto said.
Unlike killed in action, the total to date of which is mentioned in every report, military battlefield reports do not carry a running total of wounded-in-action.
By Aug. 31, the number of soldiers killed had climbed to 136, the latest three wounded in the retaking of a strategic bridge that leads to the city.
Thursday’s push also wounded 54 troops, according to media reports that quoted military spokesmen.
Recto said he was not questioning what appears to be a policy to embargo information on total number of wounded.
“The people deserve the right to salute their heroes,” Recto said.
He said stories of wounded personnel reporting to the front with injuries not yet completely healed depicted men who are heroes.
He said the budget of the AFP Medical Center, pegged at P1.613 billion for 2018, should be increased to accommodate the needs of wounded servicemen.
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