ILIGAN CITY – Military aircrafts on Saturday continue to bomb enemy targets in Marawi City where jihadists were holed out as security forces battled ISIS-affiliate Maute group and their armed supporters fighting for the establishment of a caliphate in the restive Muslim region of Mindanao.

Several houses, including one owned by a lawmaker, were blasted as television crew members dangerously sneaked in Bangon, one of villages bombed by the air force. One villager, guiding journalists, said the bomb destroyed the house of a lawmaker. A video of the aftermath of the air strike was also uploaded on social media and it showed the house hit by the bomb still burning. “The village is empty. Everybody has evacuated. That house is also empty, but they still bombed it,” the guide said.

The Western Mindanao Command confirmed the air strikes and said it targeted Maute fighters hiding out in different houses and buildings there. “As fighting continues in Marawi, our units are constrained to launch airstrikes to identified specific targets occupied by the Maute/ISIS terrorist group. These terrorist atrocities continue sow terror and confusion even to non-combatant Muslims and Christians.” Said Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, chief of the Western Mindanao Command.

He also sought the help of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and rival Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and apologized to tens of thousands of people affected and displaced by the war. “Nais naming humingi ng paumanhin sa lahat ng mamamayang apektado, sa mga kapatid naming Muslim lalong lalo na sa mga miyembro ng MILF at MNLF, humihingi kami ng pang unawa sa pangyayari ngayon. Nawa’y magtulungan tayo sa mga panahong ito, at ating paigtingin ang samahang nabuo sa mga nakaraang mga pagsubok na ating nalampasan,” Galvez said.

He said troops will also be deployed in different mosques to protect Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan. Since the start of the violence, it was only on Saturday that authorities shut down cell sites in Marawi City and effectively cutting off mobile phones communications among ISIS fighters and their allies.

The military on Friday said security forces had killed nearly three dozen militants, including foreign fighters, in continuing offensives against the Maute group. But 6 soldiers were also slain and 7 more wounded on Friday in street battles in Marawi.

“As of this report, 31 terrorist were already neutralized and 6 high-powered firearms were recovered by the troops. Our troops are doing deliberate operations in areas we believe are still occupied or infested with the terrorist’s presence. I specifically ordered our soldiers to locate and destroy these terrorists as soon as possible,” said Brigadier General Rolando Bautista, commander of military forces fighting the Maute group.

But it was unclear whether the casualties were based on intelligence reports since not a single body of militants had been recovered by troops, except for one fighter who died while being operated at a hospital early on the siege.

However, Malaysian media – quoting unnamed intelligence sources – reported that two Malaysians, Abdulrahman Asmawi from Kelantan and Kamsa Yahya from Kedah; and an Indonesian militant, Shei Ayman Marjuki, and an Arab sheik, Ahmad Balkafi, – were among those killed in Marawi.

Malaysian newspaper The Star also reported that former Universiti Malaya lecturer Dr Mahmud Ahmad, also known as Abu Handzalah, is also in Marawi and helping Abu Sayyaf chieftain and local ISIS leader Isnilon Hapilon in putting up a caliphate in the southern region.

Troops were trying desperately to drive the militants out in the open as security forces cordoned off Marawi to prevent the jihadists from escaping. But there were no signs the militants were backing down, although they earlier threatened to execute over a dozen civilian hostages, including a Catholic priest, should security forces continue with its assaults.

The fighting began on May 23 when militants occupied Marawi, the capital of Lanao del Sur in the Muslim autonomous region. Photos of militants also surfaced in social media with one picture showing 3 heavily-armed jihadists posing on top of a destroyed army tank in Marawi. Other photos showed the militants manning roadblocks in the city.

The militants, who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, forged an alliance with various jihadist groups, including the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the notorious Abu Sayyaf group.

Galvez again appealed to citizens to help them fight terrorism by providing intelligence on the militants. Galvez earlier vowed to crush the Maute group in two days. “We once more call on the people in the community to join us fight terrorism. Provide your security forces with information that will contribute to the neutralization of these agents of deaths and destruction. We will exhaust all efforts to crush the remaining Maute members so that the people of Marawi City can go back to their homes the soonest,” he said.

The siege of Marawi by ISIS fighters has forced President Rodrigo Duterte to cut short his four-day visit to Russia and rushed back home to personally address the critical situation. Before heading back to the Philippines, Duterte declared a 60-day martial law in the whole of Southern Philippines in an effort to destroy the Maute group and end the violence in Marawi.

[Originally published by Mindanao Examiner and reproduced here with permission.]