By Roy Ramos and Hader Glang
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines
After 70 days of fighting, up to 40 pro-Daesh terrorists are holding out in Marawi City, Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana said Monday.
Militants from the Maute group and Abu Sayyaf seized Marawi on the southern island of Mindanao on May 23 and just a handful remain embedded in pockets around the devastated city.
The military said it has killed 491 militants in heavy fighting that saw the government order airstrikes on Marawi and impose martial law across Mindanao.
“I think they are down to only 30 to 40 fighters but don’t discount them as these are good fighters and we are still taking casualties,” Lorenzana said, according to the state-run Philippine News Agency.
“In fact, we had one killed and nine wounded some three days ago and yesterday.”
The military is looking into claims that Abdullah Maute, one of the brothers leading the Maute group, was killed over the weekend, spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said.
The terrorists currently hold 80-100 hostages, including Catholic priest Teresito Suganob, ABS-CBN news reported Padilla as saying.
The government has lost 114 troops in the fighting and 45 civilians have been killed.
Conditions in Marawi City, which lies on the northern shore of Lake Lanao, have deteriorated to such a degree that troops have been falling prey to diseases such as typhoid and dengue fever, Capt. Jo-Ann Petinglay, spokeswoman for Western Mindanao Command, said.
The Manila Bulletin reported Monday that 25 soldiers had contracted diseases caused by poor sanitary conditions.
It also cited Health Minister Paulyn Jean Ubial as saying the displacement of 465,000 people from Marawi was one of the biggest unrelated forced movement of people to natural disaster in the Philippines.
The unsanitary conditions are one of the main reasons residents have not been allowed to return to parts of the city cleared of terrorists.
Petinglay said military engineers and local contractors were working on building accommodation for 5,000 people forced to flee their homes because of the fighting.
"Initially, the ground works of the relocation site and the construction of the houses started a week ago,” she said. “The models are expected to be done after a week of work.”
GMA News online reported that the 11-hectare housing project in the village of Sagonsongan, to the north of Marawi, would be constructed over three phases.
City officials said they would focus on rebuilding the commercial district once temporary living facilities were finished.