Reports of planned “diversionary attacks” by terrorists are being received by the military during its ongoing operations in Marawi City against the Islamic State (IS)-linked Maute Group, according to the newly-installed commanding general of the Philippine Army.
In an interview with reporters on Thursday, Maj. Gen. Rolando Bautista said they have been receiving such reports since the start of the siege of the city by the Maute Group on May 23.
“[As] part of the diversionary attacks, they will disrupt peaceful municipalities and replicate the Marawi siege,” Bautista told reporters at the sidelines of the 58th Change of Command ceremony for the new Philippine Army commander in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City.
Defense and security officials have been announcing deadlines for ending the siege of the capital city of Lanao del Sur in southern Mindanao but have failed to deliver on them.
The most recent deadline set by the military was announced by Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., commander of the Armed Forces’ Western Mindanao Command.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana in September said the fighting would not last until the beginning of October but this deadline was unmet.
For Bautista, the war would not last until November, when meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will be held in Clark, Pampanga.
He said military operations would not stop in Marawi even if it was liberated from the Maute Group bandits.
“Our operations in Marawi will not stop. As we liberate downtown Marawi, [the operations]will continue. We have consolidated reports [of the planned attacks],” according to Bautista.
In the meantime, he said, it will be necessary to retain martial law in Mindanao to pursue the rehabilitation phase of Marawi City.
“Martial law has been a big help for us. Imagine, we can accost suspected terrorists. If there is no martial law, we would be charged [if we did that],” Bautista added.
President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in the whole of Mindanao shortly after the Marawi siege began.
If he had his way, Bauti sta said, he would want to return to Marawi City to finish off the siege but that he would have to wait for instructions from Armed Forces chief Gen. Eduardo Año.
Bautista was the commander of the Army’s 1st Infantry Division and Joint Task Force Marawi when he was named by President Rodrigo Duterte as the chief of the 87,000-strong Philippine Army, replacing Lt. Gen. Glorioso Miranda, who will retire on October 8.
Aside from reports of the diversionary attacks, Bautista said they are also receiving reports that the two remaining terror leaders of the Maute Group were among the casualties of the siege in Marawi City.
He added that ground commanders obtained reports that the Islamic State’s Southeast Asian “emir” Isnilon Hapilon and Omarkhayam Maute, one of the top Maute brothers, had been killed.
“There were reports that they are already dead but then again those will be subject for validation, the deaths of Hapilon and the others,” Bautista said.
In September, Año said Abdullah, Ottoh and Maddie Maute–the Maute brothers leading the terror group–were already dead.