MARAWI CITY, Philippines – The local terrorist groups in Marawi City are holding about a hundred hostages, according to the military.
"Ang problema namin mayroon na-account na more or less a hundred na hostages doon sa loob (Our problem is, we accounted for more or less a hundred hostages inside)," said Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez, chief of the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom).
Ground commander Major General Rolando Bautista said the main priority is to rescue the hostages and trapped civilians, which also number in the hundreds. (READ: Hundreds still trapped as Marawi crisis enters 3rd week)
"In the conflict area, our main consideration is to rescue the hostages. We are doing all our best to determine where they are. Once they are determined, if there are local terrorist groups there, we will be very cautious on how to address the local terrorist groups and at the same time rescue the trapped civilians," said Bautista.
"Father Chito is still alive. We don't want to divulge his location right now for security reasons. Even the emissaries who have been there in the area, they said Father Chito is still alive," said Bautista.
On Day 17 of the Marawi crisis, the military said clashes have been confined to 3 barangays. Galvez said troops have penetrated enemy defenses in barangays Lilod, Banggolo, and Marinaut.
But there remains 230 more terrorists, according to Bautista.
The terrorists have snipers that are strategically located to block the entry of troops in these barangays, according to the military.
"If we can break those barriers then it will be through and through towards the area where we will neutralize all of them," Bautista said.
Residents have called on the military to stop air strikes, afraid that trapped residents and hostages will become collateral damage.
But the military said the war will take "months or years" if they do not "apply combined force."
"For every area that we seize, we will assess if we need to apply a combined force. It is a calibrated response, eventually to neutralize the threat. If we will not do that, it will take months, even years before we can clear the main battle area which is the other side of the bridge," said Bautista. – Rappler.com