MARAWI CITY, Philippines – Black-clad armed men are feared massing up in towns near Butig in Lanao del Sur, hometown of the leaders of the Maute Group that attacked nearby Marawi City.
In the town of Bayang, Mayor Aslani Pangarungan Balt said an M203 grenade was fired toward the military detachment Wednesday afternoon, September 20, by a group of about 20 armed men.
"May lumusob na unidentified black group doon sa upper portion ng bayan ko. Inaano nila ang kampo doon ng military. May pinaputukan sila doon. Fortunately, nawala ang mga tao (An unidentified black group attacked our town. The target was the military camp there. Fortunately, they withdrew)," Balt said in an interview in Marawi City after a meeting with the military.
The military confirmed there was a one-minute encounter in Bayang, but its investigation shows only 5 to 7 armed men were involved.
Task Group Ranao deputy commander Colonel Romeo Brawner said they are taking the situation "seriously," even as they see it as a "nuisance harassment."
"The town of Bayang was harassed by a few armed men. Our assessment here is that they were just an ordinary group. It's a nuisance harassment," Brawner said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Brawner said the 65th Infantry Battalion in Bayang is on top of the situation. He also gave assurances that the armed group will find it difficult to move toward Marawi if their plan is to reinforce local terror groups fighting the military.
The armed men immediately withdrew out of the town on Wednesday but they were spotted again Saturday morning, September 23, causing panic among residents.
Balt said the municipal government has instructed the residents not evacuate, but also prepared contingencies. He said they should go to the municipal hall if the situation escalates.
Brawner said they are looking at the possibility that it is a "diversionary tactic" to move military attention from Marawi.
Bayang is a mountainous lakeside town similar to the terrain in Butig, where the Maute Group also attacked a military detachment in February 2016.
Butig is about 50 kilometers away from Marawi City, where clashes with the Maute Group and the Abu Sayyaf Group has raged on 4 months since it erupted on May 23.
Balat said he has also deployed barangay security personnel to protect his town.
"I called my spiritual leaders and my village captains. We have to defend our territory," Balt said.
The war in Marawi marked its 4th month on Saturday, September 23. At least 887 have died including 151 soldiers, 689 enemies, and 47 civilians. – Rappler.com