The Philippine military said Tuesday it had rescued a Christian carpenter who was trapped for more than two months inside Marawi city, where government forces have been fighting to oust Islamic State-linked militants since late May.
The 41-year-old man, identified only as Dodong, appeared weak and frail as he faced journalists at the Amai Pakpak Hospital here while loud explosions from military bombing runs reverberated in the distance.
Dodong said he survived by eating raw grains of rice, and by drinking rain water as he hid on the rooftop of his employers’ home.
Dodong described scenes of chaos and how he witnessed young militants go from house to house, hauling off valuables in trucks and committing arson.
He said he saw about a hundred fighters – many of them barely out of their teens – who were scattered in the streets not far from his hideaway in downtown Marawi.
“I saw them from my location. They were burning the houses after stealing valuables inside,” Dodong told reporters. “I saw young fighters with guns.”
“They are firing their guns every time the military combat aircraft were dropping bombs on their location,” he said.
On one occasion, Dodong said, he was wounded by shrapnel from a bomb that exploded nearby.
On July 28, the father of four said he decided to take a risk by trying to escape.
“It took me more than two months because I couldn’t get out because a lot of them were within the vicinity,” he said of the militants affiliated with Islamic State (IS).
He knew of other civilians who were hiding around his neighborhood, but he said he could do nothing to help them.
“I was so scared. I prayed to God to keep me safe. Whenever the military would bomb enemy positions, my ears felt like exploding too,” he said.
First Lt. Ace Guintibano, who led the team that rescued Dodong, said they picked up the man at a bridge in Banggolo, a district still under the control of the militants.
“He was injured. We prioritized his safety so we immediately rushed him here at the hospital for treatment,” Guintibano said.
Fighting began on May 23, when a large enemy force led by Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, the acknowledged leader of the IS here, repelled arresting soldiers and police officers.
They were backed up by militants from the local Maute group and several fighters from Southeast Asia and the Middle East.
But what was initially projected to end quickly turned out to be a battle that has entered its 71st day on Tuesday. It has also turned out to be the biggest security challenge for President Rodrigo Duterte’s young government.
Duterte has admitted underestimating the enemy, and has been compelled to receive intelligence help from the United States and Australia.
Neighbors Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia have also agreed to boost anti-terrorism cooperation, fearing that IS fighters from Marawi could cross over to their borders.
Duterte has placed the entire southern region under martial law, and has told the military to advance slowly and carefully because the gunmen were known to be holding about 300 hostages.
The fighting so far has killed 114 soldiers, 45 civilians and 491 militants, according to the military.
Medical personnel bring patient Dodong into Amai Pakpak Hospital in Marawi following his rescue from a city neighborhood controlled by militants, Aug. 1, 2017. [Jeoffrey Maitem/BenarNews]