Duterte: Marawi battle in final stage
MARAWI CITY—President Duterte on Thursday said the Marawi battle against the Maute group and its allies—now on its fourth month—was on its final stage.
Speaking to reporters here during a surprise visit amid protests denouncing his administration, Duterte said the operation was nearing conclusion.
“The Armed Forces is winding up,” he said.
Duterte said the crisis had dragged into weeks because of the presence of hostages, whose lives the military wanted to spare even as soldiers were dying in the fighting.
At least 151 soldiers and policemen had died in the crisis that started on May 23, when government troops tried to serve warrants against Maute group leaders and Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon.
“What delayed us before is just the same. As much as possible, we do not want any of the hostages taken by the terrorists harmed or killed,” Duterte said.
The President also said that once the city had been fully liberated from the Maute group and its allies, no celebration would take place because “no one really won here.”
Earlier, Col. Romeo Brawner, the Joint Task Force Marawi deputy commander, said at least 200 structures had not been cleared yet. These structures were within the less than 20 hectares of area where the gunmen had been pushed into.
“We have expected to experience more firefights as we try to regain more ground,” he said.
However, he said the military was also careful because of the presence of hostages—estimated to number between 40 and 45.
On Saturday, government security forces captured two strongholds of the Islamic State-inspired militants during a major offensive, which also saw the rescue of captive priest Teresito Soganub and another hostage.
The Bato Ali Mosque and the Jamiatu Marawi Al-Islamia Foundation were used by the gunmen as their command center.
Armed Forces Chief Gen. Eduardo Año said the retaking of the two structures was not easy as soldiers had to fight the gunmen for about five hours.
Año said the military viewed the recapture of the structures as “an enormous gain.”
Joint Task Force Marawi chief, Brig. Gen. Rolando Bautista, said the military was expecting more areas to be captured amid resistance from remaining Maute gunmen, now being commanded by Omar Maute and Hapilon.
“We are ready for that. The AFP will press on relentlessly until conclusion,” he said.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also earlier said that the military was already close to retaking the city.
“There’s only little resistance left. This is just one-half village wide. That’s why I’ve been told by my ground commanders that the end is near. Just a little more patience,” he said last week.
The President also revealed that politicians were behind the Maute group and that they will also be hunted down.
“How come the Maute and the terrorists were able to stockpile so much ordnance, bullets and improvised explosives device. The terrorists here (is getting funds from) them including politicians. Politicians here including in Central Mindanao,” he said.
Duterte said he would lift martial law in Mindanao once the city had been declared safe from the terrorists.
Meanwhile, Brig. Gen. Melquiades Ordiales, the commander of the 1st Marine Brigade, said on Friday that Hata Lantud, the half-brother of Pantao Ragat Mayor Lacson Lantud, was among the five militants killed inside the main battle area on Sept. 15 and whose body had been recovered.
“We only learned from Marawi community leaders that the slain militant was the brother of a town mayor,” Ordiales said.
Ordiales said they also learned that the slain militant had been disowned by his family. —JEOFFREY MAITEM