MANILA (PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Around 20 to 40 terrorists remained holed up in the besieged Marawi City, where the crisis has been ongoing for almost three months now, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla said on Monday (Aug 14).
But despite their number getting smaller, BG Padilla said the Maute terrorists could still inflict harm with their stock of adequate ammunition.
"So, the force is getting smaller and their capacity to inflict harm, by the way, is still there because they still have arms, they still have adequate ammunition and they still continue to hold hostages. So that's the compounding factor," he said during a Palace briefing.
The official said military operations are now concentrated in two barangays, which the terrorists continue to hold.
"Those two barangays remain to be in the area that we have been mentioning all along. Name of those barangays, I cannot disclose," he said.
As of 7pm on Sunday, around 562 enemies have been killed, 128 government troops died in action and 45 civilians have been killed by the terrorists.
The hostages, who were able to escape from the custody of the Maute terrorists, said the remaining captives, including Catholic priest Teresito Suganob, had been forced to gather gunpowder from firecrackers, which the terrorists would later use to make bombs.
"The only thing that we're really seeking to do is to be able to rescue them safe and sound, alive, at the conclusion of this fighting and we're doing that," said BG Padilla.
But he added that even if the military would be able to clear and secure Marawi, martial law would not be lifted.
"Actually, don't look at Marawi per se as the reason for keeping martial law. You know, this rebel group has a structure that is beyond Marawi," he said.
The homegrown terrorists, who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, have groups in other portions of Lanao, in Maguindanao, in Sulu archipelago.
"So it does not mean that just because we have been able to address the security issue in Marawi, there is going to be a pre-emptive lifting of martial law," said BG Padilla.
He said the military still has a lot of security concerns to do in Mindanao.