As the Filipino army continues battling Islamic State-backed militants for control of Marawi City, reports have emerged of local Muslims risking their own lives to save their Christian neighbors and escape through nightmarish streets filled with rotting bodies.
According to the UAE's The National, Norodin Alonto Lucman, the former vice governor of a Muslim self-ruled area within the city, hid 71 Christians in his home and led 144 people "through downtown streets held by self-styled ISIL fighters and strewn with rotting corpses."
Lucman said that after running out of supplies at his home, they had to make a daring escape through the streets, dodging bombings and snipers.
"[The city] is strewn with debris, dead bodies of chickens, rats, dogs, even the smell of rotting flesh," the politician described. "As we walked many people saw us on the street and they joined us."
Reports indicate that the fighting began last month when the Philippines police and military forces raided a hideout in search of Isnilon Hapilon, senior leader of the Abu Sayyaf group — which pledged allegiance to Islamic State. Hapilon is on the FBI's most wanted terrorists list.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte declared a 60-day martial law in southern Philippines. Though the controversial president vowed on Sunday that the city would be fully liberated from IS occupation within three days, officials have said they are preparing for a longer battle, with Islamic radicals holed up in mosques and tunnels and basements, according to Reuters.
The Abu Sayyaf and Maute jihadist groups are reportedly holding hundreds of people hostage, among them a Roman Catholic priest and other Catholics.
Father Chito Suganob appeared last week in a five-minute long video, speaking directly to Duterte, asking him "to stop the airstrikes, and to stop the cannons," arguing that the extremists cannot be forced to leave.
Though the Philippines is predominantly Catholic, Marawi is a largely Muslim city. The militants set fire to churches and buildings as they flew the flag of the Islamic State upon entering the city.
Leny Paccon was also among those who provided refuge for Christians in her home.
"We had a tip from the general commander that we should go out," said Paccon, who helped 54 people, including 44 Christians. "When I got the text, immediately we go out ... about 7 o'clock."
The survivors said that the city has been devastated, filled with debris and rotting bodies. They estimated seeing close to 1,000 dead.
In an earlier instance on Saturday, 23 Christian teachers and 15 companions ran to safety from another area of Marawi, but witnessed unforgettable horrors.
"We passed through three corpses being eaten by maggots," said Regene Apao, 23. "We knew they were ISIL because they wore black clothing and black head masks."
Senior army officials estimated that between 500-600 civilians remain trapped in the city.
Major General Carlito Galvez, head of the military command in Western Mindanao region, said that 200 fighters, a mixture of the Maute militant group and IS, are ready for a drawn-out standoff for control.
"In houses we take over, we see .50 caliber, .30 caliber, and the ammunitions are huge. And the Maute, even if they fight two months they will not starve here," Galvez said at a news conference.
"If you look at it, there are underground tunnels and basements that even a 500-pounder cannot destroy."
Brigadier General Restituto Padilla pointed out that the militants now control only 10 percent of the city, but there are significant obstacles in driving them out entirely.
"Complications have been coming out: the continued use of civilians, potential hostages that may still be in their hands, the use of places of worship ... and other factors that complicates the battle because of its urban terrain," he said.