By FRANCIS T. WAKEFIELD
Soldiers are using sledgehammers to clear houses in strife-torn Marawi City, according to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
Speaking before members of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) at Makati Shangri-la Tuesday, Lorenzana noted that homes in Marawi are very sturdy and all concrete, posing a big problem for the troops.
“They have basements and they cannot be breached by canons or M203 grenade launchers. The M203 cannot breach those.
They (troops) had to do it by hand. So the people there, our troops there, may mga maso na sila,” Lorenzana said.
Lorenzana said soldiers have to deal with explosives while attempting to clear houses.
“They cannot also get inside the doors of the houses because they are rigged with bombs, the windows as well. So they go through the walls, get inside and clear room by room everyday. That’s what they are doing,” he said.
The defense chief said soldiers can clear between 40 and 50 houses a day. About 600 houses have yet to be cleared.
The death toll among government troops has risen to 11 following the death of two soldiers last Monday. About a dozen others were wounded.
The Armed Forces-Western Mindanao Command (AFP-WestMinCom) said an estimated 900 soldiers have been hurt so far by the conflict that started on May 23.
A total of 460 militants have been killed and 533 firearms recovered so far.
In the same meeting, Lorenzana said that 18 months will not be enough to complete the rehabilitation of Marawi.
He said, however, that they are looking to end the siege in a week or month or so.
“Then after that we can again deal with some of the problems that’s happening in some other parts of Mindanao like the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in central Mindanao and the Abu sayyaf in Basilan and Sulu,” he added.
Lorenzana admitted that there was somewhat a failure to appreciate intelligence that could have foiled the militants in Marawi.
“I said when we were in Moscow when this thing blew up and I was asked by one of the media people there, was it a failure of intelligence? I said now, it was a failure to appreciate intelligence because for a long time, for the longest time we were reading in the website of the ISIS in the Middle East that says ‘If you want to continue fighting after here in the Middle East, you go to Southern Philippines’,” Lorenzana said.
“So we know that, the president has warned us that the ISIS is coming. Our neighboring countries Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore have also warned us that fighters are infiltrating through the southern borders going into the southern Philippines,” he added.
Lorenzana said that what happened in Marawi City is a lesson for everyone.
“We failed to appreciate the looming problem because they were trying to infiltrate from the outside toward Marawi City. A lot of fireams, a lot of fighters both foreign and local when this Marawi incident blew up in May 23,” Lorenzana said.