by Chito Chavez
The Maute terrorist group continues to occupy the Marawi City jail and the adjacent Malabang district jail, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) said yesterday.
This developed as some local policemen in Marawi City were reported missing as the battle between government troops and Maute gunmen enters its eighth day today (Wednesday), Director General Ronald dela Rosa, chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), disclosed Tuesday. He, however, would not reveal the exact number of the unaccounted policemen.
“They lost contact. We do not know if they were captured or they were just hiding,” said Dela Rosa.
Despite the Maute occupation of the two jail facilities, BJMP spokesman Xavier Solda said this development should not cause fear or public panic as the jail personnel remain safe.
The families of the jail personnel had earlier appealed to President Duterte to instruct the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), BJMP, and other government forces to ensure the safety of their loved ones. They also appealed for the flushing out of the terrorist group the soonest time possible to avoid the possibility of inflicting harm on the hostages.
JAIL PERSONNEL SAFE
In an exclusive interview, Solda said the BJMP has yet to enter the two jail facilities but assured that the jail personnel remain unharmed.
Solda said members of the Maute Group are mobile as they opt to move around and leave the two jail facilities from time to time while keeping the jail guards safe and sound.
Despite these assurances, the relatives, friends and immediate family members of the concerned jail personnel remain anxious and deeply concerned over the condition of their loved once, saying they haven’t seen them for several days.
Most of them have also complained that they have gone broke as their breadwinners are unable to provide for their daily needs.
Solda noted that BJMP chief Serafin Barretto will fly to war-torn Marawi City within the week to check on the condition of families of the trapped jail personnel.
Barretto, together with his team, will assess the amount of financial aid each family should receive as their situation differs from one another.
They will also check on other assistance that the BJMP may provide to the distressed families of the jail guards.
Solda stressed that the families of the jail personnel residing in Marawi City will be prioritized in the distribution of financial assistance.
Also, the BMJP spokesman said inmates who were set free by the terrorists sent feelers to the government, expressing their intention to surrender but only to Barretto.
The inmates maintained that they do not want to be released under such circumstances as most of them believe that they would be exonerated from the charges they are facing.
As the conflict enters its eighth day, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said Tuesday that the number of Maute Group members killed has already reached 65.
AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said an additional four Maute Group members were killed as a result of the military and police operations last Monday.
He said the confirmed body count is 42 while the confirmed killed by eyewitnesses is 23.
Padilla added that as of 6 p.m. Monday, 20 government security forces – 17 from the AFP and three PNP – were slain in the government offensives.
He said 69 soldiers and three policemen were also wounded based on the latest tally.
On the other hand, a total of 19 civilians also perished after they were killed by the terrorists while 560 other civilians were rescued.
A total of 55 firearms were also seized in Marawi City.
The government called on the remnants of the Maute terror group to surrender to authorities to avoid any more casualties and destruction in Marawi City.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the military has carried out “precision air strikes” at specific targets to flush out the lawless elements who continue to resist.
“We call on the remaining terrorists to surrender while there is an opportunity,” Abella said in a Palace press briefing.
He explained that the government’s call for surrender would help “lessen the damage on the ground definitely and so the civilians will be less affected.”
Likewise, Padilla urged the terrorists to immediately surrender while there is an opportunity.
Padilla said they are airing the message in the hope of ending the conflict soon and reducing any more loss of lives and property.
“We will come out victorious! We stand by the people of Marawi whose interests and safety we are protecting. For the terrorists, not surrendering will mean their sure death,” Padilla said.
DUTERTE READY TO TALK PEACE
Meantime, the Palace asserted that the President is sincere in offering to talk peace with the terror elements in Marawi City.
“He is very open to dialogue. His sincerity regarding the matter should not be questioned,” Abella said.
He said “backchannel” talks could be initiated to broker the peace between the government and the militants. Abella, however, said he was unaware if emissaries have already been designated for these talks.
The President had earlier expressed readiness to hold a dialogue with the Islamic militants despite a deadly siege of Marawi City.
The government, however, will keep up the offensives if the terror suspects refuse to stop the attacks, according to the President. “If you cannot be convinced to stop fighting, so be it. Away na lang tayo (Let’s just fight),” he said.
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