MARAWI CITY, Philippines – The Philippine military said the possible surrender by the recruits of the Maute Group in Marawi could lead to an earlier end to the war that has ravaged the city for over 3 months now.
This was how the siege in Zamboanga City in September 2013 ended, according to the military. (READ: Zamboanga Siege: Tales from the combat zone)
Brigadier General Rolando Bautista, the ground commander in Marawi, said troops are now in the "final push" in the battle area. Intense fighting and heavy bombardment have triggered surrender feelers from the enemies linked with international terrorist network Islamic State (ISIS). (READ: Troops penetrate Maute defensive position in Marawi)
The military launched its "final push" in Marawi last week, said Bautista.
"In military terms, this is the culmination point. We have reduced their maneuver space. That is our final push. We concentrate whatever personnel, whatever capability we have. Talagang tapusin namin sa isang area at i-push namin sila kung saan namin sila gusto ma-contain,ˆ (We will really finish this in an area and we will push them to where we want them contained)," he said. (READ: Marawi battle zone: Urban warfare challenges PH military)
He didn't give a timeline. "Inch by inch, the more we occupy space, the less the areas they control. We are just looking at [a possible] turning point. We can't say what the turning point will be," said Bautista.
He said they are looking at a possible scenario where the miilitary offensive will break the will of the remaining fighters and "they will decide to surrender or lay down their arms without even going to their final defensive stand."
Mixed signals on surrender
The military uses loudspeakers in the battle area to persuade the Maute fighters to surrender or let their families – the women and the children – out of the battle area. They are supposedly given instructions on what to do or where to go if they are inclined so they will not be shot.
Bautista said they received "mixed signals." There are "hard-core" fighters who want to die as martyrs and there are recruits who appear to already want to escape the war zone. (READ: Terror in Mindanao: The Mautes of Marawi)
"What we’re doing right now is those who want to surrender, we open the door for them. 'Yun ang intent namin. Kasi meron eh. May mga feelers na (That is our intent. Because there are cases. There are already feelers)," said Bautista without elaborating.
Among the commanders leading the operations in Marawi, Major General Danilo Pamonag was also the commander of elite units that led military operations during the Zamboanga siege.
"Kinukuwento ni (It was recalled by) General Pamonag. They did not expect mag-surrender kalaban (the enemies to surrender). 'Yun din hinihintay namin (It's what we are waiting for)," said Bautista.
Bautista reiterated the military's opposition to a proposal to let the Maute fighters escape the battle area in exchange for releasing the hostages. He said they will face possible imprisonment if they are identified to be members of the Maute-ISIS group. (READ: Gov't throws out last-minute negotiations with Mautes)
"Ang objective namin ay walang makalabas na any of the Maute members or any members of the Maute-ISIS group. The implication kapag isa makalabas o dalawa makalabas, makapag-recruit sila. The more na ma-strengthen capability nila. They learned what happened here," said Bautista.
(Our objective is to not let out any of the Maute members or any members of the Maute-ISIS group. The implication is, if one gets out or two get out, they will be able to recruit. Their capability will be strengthened. They learned what happened here.)
There are military officers who also believe that the overtures for negotiation could mean the leaders of the local terrorist groups are also tired of fighting. – Rappler.com