By Argyll Cyrus Geducos
Malacañang on Monday denounced the pro-Islamic State (ISIS) Maute Group’s plan to use its hostages as suicide bombers should they be cornered by government troops.
Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella, during the Mindanao Hour briefing Monday , said the reports came from hostages who were able to escape the terrorists.
He said the Maute Group is issuing the threats intentionally to stir the emotions of the public and use it to their advantage.
“We strongly denounce these desperate actions which apparently are carefully calculated to create violent reaction from the general populace in order to create tension between ethnic groups, which the terrorist groups expect to work in favor of their cause,” Abella said.
The Palace official assured that President Duterte has ordered the government troops to make the safety of the hostages their highest priority and consideration.
“We, however, assure our people that government forces will continue to abide by the rules of engagement to ensure the safety of hostages, particularly women and children, in our drive to clear Marawi of all armed elements,” he said.
“No less than the Commander-in-Chief has given this primordial consideration and guidance to our troops,” he added.
Reports of the Maute Group’s plan to use their hostages as suicide bombers stemmed from the accounts of three of the group’s hostages who were able to escape last week.
Romar Marjalino, 39; his brother Roel, 37, and Jimmy Esperat, 43, yesterday told authorities that the terrorists would strap improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to the hostages.
Marjalino also confirmed that Catholic priest Fr. Teresito (Chito) Suganob is still alive but they were not able to bring him with them as he is already weak due to trauma. They expressed regret that Fr. Chito had said that he had “accepted his fate.”
The priest is reportedly tasked to collect powder from illegal firecrackers like “piccolo and five star” to be used for improvised bombs that will be rigged to the hostages.
The three also relayed to the authorities that so far, the Maute group has not strapped an IED to any of the 46 hostages remaining at the site where they were held.
Marjalino, however, revealed that during their captivity, several children appeared sick due to the bomb explosions and the stench of decomposing human flesh.
Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla,Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson, said the accounts of the escaped hostages showed that the hostages were still alive.
“Itong mga ini-reveal nila ay nagpapahiwatig na buhay pa si Fr. Chito. So mainam na nalaman natin ito dahil isa ito sa mga proof na nagpapatibay na ang mga hostages ay nandyan pa rin (The things they revealed show that Fr. Chito is still alive. It is good that we learned of this as this proves that the hostages are still alive),” he said during the Mindanao Hour press briefing.
Padilla also said that reports that the hostages are being tasked to collect powder for explosives, ammunition as preparation for war, and other things that the terrorists want only prove that the hostages are under duress.
“The only thing that we’re seeking is to rescue them alive, safe and sound,” Padilla said.