Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Tuesday called on the public to be cautious and discerning following reports that 2,000 civilians have been killed in the ongoing conflict in Marawi City.
"These are unverified reports. Operations are still ongoing and the proper authorities are still assessing, consolidating, and verifying data from Marawi City," Lorenzana said in a statement.
Lorenzana was referring to a newspaper report that 2,000 civilians have been killed in the Marawi conflict.
The report cited a "former government official and a long-time member of the PDP-Laban" as the source of the information.
"For now, we once again call on the people to be more cautious and discerning. Do not accept any information as fact," the defense chief said.
He also emphasized that people should not share "fake news."
"Such information is not only detrimental to our ongoing operations. It also hurts our economy and our international image as a nation," he added.
At Camp Aguinaldo, Armed Forces spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr. echoed Lorenzana's remarks, noting that the information on the death toll should be verified.
"Unang una suriin po muna ninyo kung saan nangagaling. Ito kasi po tayo po'y maingat na nagbibigay ng mga ulat at sinisigurado natin na may basehan tayo, at kung maalala ninyo nung pangatlo o pang-apat na linggo ng bakbakan, iminungkahi natin na maaaring tumaas ang bilang ng mga namatay na civilian," Padilla said.
"'Pag nakapasok na tayo sa mga teritoryo ng kalaban na mga lugar na ating hinahawakan at maaaring may natitira pang mga labi ng mga nasawi, so as of now we have not gone into the interiors of previously held enemy areas and once we do that we may get the surprise of our lives and find numbers of cadavers left who have been killed by the enemy," he added.
As of Tuesday, 381 militants, 90 government troops and 39 civilians have been killed in the clashes. A total of 461 firearms have also been recovered.
Padilla also took note of around 300 unaccounted civilians, who may be "trapped residents" or "held hostages by the enemy."
A total of 1,723 civilians have been rescued.
The conflict, which started last May 23 with a Maute-led attack, is now on its 50th day.
President Rodrigo Duterte declared a 60-day martial law in Mindanao following the attack. — with Anna Felicia Bajo/ALG/KVD/RSJ, GMA News