AFP, PNP monitoring hospitals for Maute members
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – Military and police units are monitoring hospitals and suspected safe houses where Maute group terrorists could seek refuge after having slipped out of Marawi City, according to a counterterror unit commander here.
Col. Leonel Nicolas, chief of the Joint Task Force Zamboanga (JTFZ), said yesterday authorities have anticipated the possibility of the remaining terrorists trying to merge with evacuees and other civilians to evade arrest.
“We are expecting those to come because of what happened in Marawi,” Nicolas told reporters during the observance of the 156th birth anniversary of Dr. Jose Rizal at Plaza Rizal in front of city hall.
Nicolas said the military, police and the local government have put up contingency plans in strategic areas to prevent any diversionary attack that will be conducted by the supporters of the Maute group and their Abu Sayyaf allies to allow the terrorists to evade military and police authorities in Marawi.
“So far we are checking on those reports and we have not monitored any in our hospitals,” Nicolas said.
On Saturday, the police and military confirmed the arrest of 13 suspected members of the Islamic State-inspired Maute who slipped out of Marawi and sought treatment in the Zamboanga del Sur Medical Center.
The police said two of those apprehended were identified as Junaid Dimarugong, who is in critical condition, and Halil Saliling Ali – both were found positive for gunpowder burns.
Nicolas said they also captured last Saturday Hamsi Amajad Marani, suspected aide of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, the designated emir of the IS in the Philippines.
Marani denied any connection with Hapilon and claimed that he is an agent of the military intelligence group.
“Definitely he is a member of the Abu Sayyaf, that’s what we established before the operation. We don’t want to discriminate. We did our job based on the available data we have,” Nicolas said.
Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial yesterday denied reports that many evacuees in Marawi City are getting sick and appealed to evacuees to get medical assistance at local health centers.
In a statement, Ubial said the cases of sick people in evacuation centers are declining and claimed that out of the 638 persons that sought consultations last week, only 300 were admitted in hospital.
None of the displaced persons in evacuation centers have died, she added.
“The reports stating that many are getting sick are inaccurate. Cases are going down,” Ubial said.
More than 320,000 people have been displaced by the clashes between government forces and the Maute terrorists in Marawi City.
Of those displaced, only about five percent are staying in the 79 evacuation centers in Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur and Cagayan de Oro City, while the rest have sought refuge in the houses of relatives and friends.
Previous reports said some of the evacuees are now suffering from illnesses like cough, colds, fever and diarrhea.
Ubial reported yesterday that five more evacuees in Marawi City died from various health conditions, bringing the death toll to 24 as of June 18.
“There were four others due to various illnesses; pneumonia and some also to dehydration. All deaths occurred in the hospital,” she noted in an ambush interview on the sidelines of DOH’s launching of “Quitline,” a hotline for those who wish to stop smoking, at the Lung Center of the Philippines.
The health chief had reiterated her denial of news reports that there were already 59 deaths among the evacuees.
She added there was confusion during a press conference for the ASEAN Dengue Day last June in Legazpi City where she was misquoted on the death toll.
According to Ubial, she mentioned that there were 19 deaths in hospitals, mostly due to “pre-existing health conditions” such as diabetes, cancer and hypertension.
“I think the confusion was when somebody asked me about the four deaths due to dehydration. I said it in Tagalog na, ‘apat na po ang namatay sa (four had died of) dehydration.’ So parang nagconclude sila ‘apatnapu’ (they concluded 40). Which I can’t understand how they can conclude that when in the first place, sila iyong nagtanong (the reporters asked the questions),” she maintained.