Philippine Troops Rescue 17 Hostages in Marawi

Froilan Gallardo and Jeoffrey Maitem
Marawi, Philippines
171004-PH-marawi-620.jpg A Philippine Army armored personnel carrier conducts a security sweep as stray dogs roam near the center of battle zone in the southern city of Marawi, Sept. 27, 2017.
Richel V. Umel/BenarNews

Philippine troops rescued 17 hostages, including a group of university teachers, after soldiers penetrated the final defensive positions of their Islamic State-backed (IS) enemies in the southern city of Marawi, officials said Wednesday.

The group included five teachers of Dansalan College, according to military officials, who said at least 40 others remained in the hands of the militants.

They were rescued Tuesday night as elite forces launched an offensive under cover of darkness on a row of houses in Marawi’s Baraang Lumbac Marinaut neighborhood.

Col. Romeo Brawner, deputy commander of the military’s Joint Task Force Ranao, declined to provide further details, saying it might jeopardize military operations to rescue the other hostages.

In Manila, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana confirmed that nine men and eight women – ages 18 to 75 – had been rescued.

“Details of the rescue are confidential because efforts to rescue the remaining hostages are still ongoing,” he told reporters.

Heavy fighting distracted the gunmen and allowed the captives to run free, said Zia Alonto Adiong, the local crisis management spokesman.

“This is a good indication that the military is doing its best not only to defeat the enemies but to secure the civilians hostages,” he said.

Gunmen led by Isnilon Hapilon, the acknowledged IS leader in the country, and the local Maute gang seized the hostages when fighting erupted on May 23 as they took control of Marawi, the country’s only Islamic city.

The scale of the violence took President Rodrigo Duterte by surprise, forcing him to declare military rule in the entire southern region until December in a bid to end the rebellion.

The Philippine military received intelligence help from the United States and Australia, while Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia offered counter-terrorism help to stop the cross-border flow of IS militants.

Fierce battles have reduced the once-picturesque city of Marawi into rubble and left almost 1,000 people dead, including at least 749 militants and 155 soldiers and police.

Prayers answered

Euphoria swept through the nearby city of Cagayan de Oro after news spread about the rescue.

“You cannot imagine our happiness. Our prayers for their safety have been answered,” said one member of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, a Protestant church that runs Dansalan College in Marawi.

The military has not released the names of the freed teachers, but BenarNews sources identified them as Erlinda Saguin, Noelita Cusap, Robie Brizal, Archilly Abao and Dyna Bernaldez.

Brawner said troops were continuing their advance and earlier this week recovered nine improvised bombs and 20 blasting caps in a house the militants had turned into a bomb factory.

“Our soldiers were in the process of cleaning the village in preparation for the end of the war when they discovered the explosives in one plastic drum,” he told reporters.

“The house was abandoned. We have identified the owner and he is under investigation. The house was used as bomb factory before the siege,” he said.

With the number of hostages dwindling, troops can maneuver better against the enemy fighters, he said.

“One of the hindrances that is preventing our forces in giving all out in the push are the hostages. But if we rescue them, we can easily finish the war,” he said. “That’s what our ground commanders promised us.”

Teachers and volunteers clean around the Hadji Saripa Elementary School in the southern Philippine city of Marawi, Oct. 4, 2017. [Froilan Gallardo/BenarNews]


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