With the Filipino army keeping up with the government’s battles with the Islamic State-supported militants to regain control of Marawi City, local Muslims have reportedly been risking their lives to help out Christian citizens in escaping the war-torn streets.
In a report by The National, Norodin Alonto Lucman- a former vice governor of a Muslim self-ruled area in Marawi City, helped 71 Christians by allowing them to hide in his home. Lucman also led 144 citizens "through downtown streets held by self-styled ISIL fighters and strewn with rotting corpses."
According to the politician, they ran out of supplies at his home and were forced to make a quick escape through the streets as they moved through bomb attacks and snipers. "[The city] is strewn with debris, dead bodies of chickens, rats, dogs, even the smell of rotting flesh," Lucman pointed out. "As we walked many people saw us on the street and they joined us."
The conflict between the government and the extremists started out last month when the Philippine police and military forces conducted a raid in a hideout in an attempt to seek out the Abu Sayyaf’s senior leader- Isnilon Hapilon. The group has reportedly pledged their allegiance to the Islamic State, and Hapilon remains on the FBI’s list of most-wanted terrorists.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte already declared martial law to last for 60 days in the southern part of the country. The highly-debated president promised over the weekend that the Marawi City would be completely liberated from the control of IS within three days. However, officials stated that they remain vigilant and are prepping up for a longer conflict, especially with Islamic radicals staying in hiding in tunnels and mosques, as reported by Reuters.
The Maute jihadist groups along with the Abu Sayyaf have reportedly held hundreds of people hostage, including a Roman Catholic priest and other Catholics. In a five-minute clip, Father Chito Suganob spoke directly to Duterte and asked him "to stop the airstrikes and to stop the cannons," because the extremists will not leave despite a show of force from the government.
Marawi City is a predominantly Muslim area, although the Philippines is largely Catholic. Militants have already burned many of Marawi’s buildings and churches as they paraded the flag of the Islamic State when they entered the city. According to the survivors, Marawi has been completely shattered by the attacks as the city reeks with rotting bodies, with the approximate number of dead persons coming close to 1,000.
On Saturday, 23 Christian teachers and 15 other citizens escaped to safety from another area of Marawi, although they could not forget the horrifying scenes they had witnessed. "We passed through three corpses being eaten by maggots," Regene Apao recalled. "We knew they were ISIL because they wore black clothing and black head masks."
Although Brigadier General Restituto Padilla pointed out that the militants are now controlling only 10 percent of Marawi City, there are certain difficulties that are causing delays in driving them out completely. "Complications have been coming out: the continued use of civilians, potential hostages that may still be in their hands, the use of places of worship ... and other factors that complicates the battle because of its urban terrain," he said.
According to senior army officials, there is an estimated number of 500-600 civilians who are still trapped in the war-torn city.