PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte did not make a premature declaration of liberation of Marawi City from the Maute group, a military spokesman said on Friday.
“The declaration [of Marawi liberation]is not premature. These stragglers have no bearing. They are leaderless, directionless, fighting for survival. They won’t impact the overall security of the place,” Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla said.
Padilla issued the statement following the arrest of Muhammad Ilham Syahputra, identified as an Indonesian terrorist on November 1, and amid reports that there were still 36 Maute combatants holed up in the main battle area of Marawi.
President Duterte declared Marawi City liberated from terrorists last October 17, a day after Maute leaders Omar Maute and Isnilon Hapilon were killed by government forces.
Padilla said, however, that the stragglers remained dangerous.
“Of course, there are still restrictions in the area because these stragglers are waiting to escape. They still have the potential to inflict harm to the public,” Padilla said.
Padilla said that the remnants of the Maute group were managing to survive because they were holed up in the basement and tunnels of buildings peppered with booby traps and explosives taken from the main battle area.
“That’s why we are taking pains on this. We don’t want any of them escaping and exacting revenge on other areas,” Padilla said.
President Duterte declared martial law in the entire Mindanao last May 23 after the Maute group staged a series of attacks in Marawi in a bid to establish an independent state. Congress extended the declaration until the end of the year.
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said a week ago that he was in favor of keeping martial law in Mindanao until the end of 2017, citing the presence of radicals and terrorist groups like the Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Mindanao (BIFF).