PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday night said he would lift martial law in Mindanao “anytime” soon after the military was done with its clearing operations in war-torn Marawi City.
“It will be lifted anytime. The Armed Forces are winding up [their operations]but there are still hostages. We do not want anybody taken hostage by the terrorists harmed or killed,” Duterte told reporters on his fifth visit to Marawi City.
Fighting between the military and the Maute group terrorists who attacked the Islamic City on May 23 is entering its fourth month.
The President cautioned the military against celebrating the looming liberation of Marawi from terrorists.
“We will not have any celebration. We shall go home quietly. They (military) will pack their bags and maybe say goodbye to the people of Marawi,” Duterte said.
The President’s statements were confirmed by Palace spokesman Ernesto Abella on Friday.
“President Duterte will lift martial law in Mindanao as soon as the clearing operations are done and the city is fully liberated,” Abella said in a statement.
A total of 673 terrorists, 47 civilians and 149 government troopers have died since the clashes started, according to official data.
Instead of a celebration, President Duterte said there would be a thanksgiving Mass for the soldiers who fought
lawless elements in Marawi, as well as their comrades who died in the line of duty.
“This is not really a celebration because nobody won here. We [in the government]do not claim any victory over you if you were killed or you have suffered. Lives were lost, and there are those who were wounded,” Duterte said.
“We did not start this ruckus. We don’t need any trouble now. As I have said before, my grandmother is from here [in Marawi]. I’ll be the last person to pick a fight,” Duterte added.
President Duterte declared martial law and ordered warrantless arrests in Mindanao on May 23 to suppress a supposed rebellion led by the Maute group.
Congress extended his declaration of martial law until the end of the year during a joint session in July.
The military’s celebration of the retaking of Camp Abubakar from the separatist group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in July 2000 generated controversy. The Philippine flag was raised in an “assertion of sovereignty” and there was feasting on truckloads of beer and roast pork inside the camp, which is forbidden by Islam.