Rescue teams to retrieve bodies from Marawi war zone

Marawi City (CNN Philippines, August 10) — Disaster officials said hundreds of dead bodies remain inside the Marawi battle zone –  unclaimed and rotting away for 80 days now.

Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said the military is unable to retrieve the corpses, but solutions are in place to address the problem. 

"Our focus from the military side is to address the armed elements. The recovery of the dead and missing is the subject of the other task force following after us," he said.

He said the continuing armed conflict is making the retrieval operations difficult, dangerous, and risky.

But as the bodies rot by the hour, chances that families of the victims recognize them grow dim.

Local rescue units are preparing for retrieval operations inside the war zone, with members of Lanao Del Sur's rescue units training to conduct the operation.

On Thursday at the Provincial Capitol in Marawi, they simulated a rescue happening just a few feet from a firefight.

The goal of the exercise is to rescue those who are still alive and retrieve the bodies of people who died.

"This would be the first time na papasok kami sa mga areas na hindi pa namin napasukan...Ito trabaho namin eh. And siguro ito na rin yung best contribution namin sa mga kababayan namin," Lanao Del Sur Disaster Risk Reduction and Management chief Salipada Pacasum said.

[Translation: This would be the first time we'd enter areas we haven't gone into before...This is our job. And this could be our best contribution to our countrymen.]

Andres Patiño Umaña, a forensic adviser of the International Committee of the Red Cross, also conducted an exercise on the proper handling and identification of victims' remains.

He said the first priority is to respect the body and to document relevant parts, which would help in the identification of the bodies.

The rescue teams said they will get all the bodies in the war zone, whether it's a soldier, civilian, or rebel, as they all deserve a dignified burial.

As of Aug.10, 122 soldiers, 45 civilians, and 539 Maute members have been killed in the Marawi crisis that began on May 23.