ILIGAN CITY - A mother said her son, who was kidnapped seven years ago, could be one of the child warriors fighting with Islamic State-inspired terrorists in Marawi City.
Rowhanisa Abdul Jabar said an armed child, a photo of whom was posted on Facebook by the militants, resembles that of her son Ram-Ram, who was kidnapped when he was three years old.
Ram-Ram was kidnapped from Jabar's apartment in Tondo, Manila while she was tending her store in Tutuban Mall, Divisoria.
The main suspect, helper Ula Arada, had been arrested, but her accomplices remained at large.
Ram-Ram, who would be 10 years old today, has yet to be recovered.
"Please help," Jabar said in a post on Facebook.
"Is the boy in the picture holding a gun my son?" she said. "If it's he, I hope he is alive."
The pictures of children carrying assault rifles were supposedly taken in Marawi City and posted on Facebook by IS, which has lost its stronghold of Mosul in Iraq to the Iraqi military and is getting a pounding from US-backed allied forces in Raqqa, Syria.
Jabar told the Inquirer on Sunday that she had asked the military for help in verifying whether the boy in the picture was her son.
"Please help. Is the boy in the picture holding a gun same face with my son?" Jabar asked on her Facebook post. "If it's him, I hope he survives."
The intelligence community had started trying to find out if the picture was authentic, Capt. Jo-ann Petinglay, spokesperson of Joint Task Force Marawi and Western Mindanao Command, told the Inquirer.
"There is no word yet from our intelligence operatives," Petinglay said. "But if we look back to previous hostages that were able to come out alive, they were all saying a lot of minor fighters were inside."
She said the terrorists were using young fighters because they could easily manipulate them.
"They can easily shape the minds of these young people. Besides, with money, minors are not difficult to encourage to join them," Petinglay said.
Col. Romeo Brawner, deputy commander of Task Group Ranao, said the terrorists were indeed using children as fighters.
"Our soldiers have a soft spot for young fighters, but they are forced to shoot them when they get violent with their arms," Brawner said in a press briefing Saturday.
Zia Alonto Adiong, spokesperson of the Provincial Crisis Management Committee, called the use of children in the war in Marawi "illegal, immoral and un-Islamic."
The terrorists seized parts of Marawi on May 23 in a bid to establish an IS enclave in Southeast Asia.
An air and ground assault by government forces, with US and Australian intelligence support, has pushed the terrorists to the city centre, where the gunmen are holed up in buildings and mosques.
More than 700 people have been killed in the fighting, including 597 terrorists, 130 soldiers and policemen, and 45 civilians.