The end is near for the conflict in Marawi City, President Rodrigo Duterte said, as the military makes its final push to liberate the strife-torn Islamic city.
In an interview aired over state-run PTV4 on Friday night, Duterte claimed the Marawi conflict was “almost over” but added the government forces could not advance their offensives against the terrorists because they have to consider the lives of the remaining hostages.
He said it could have been easier for the state forces to “drop a hundred bombs” in places where the extremists were still holed up, including the mosques, but he chose to end the battle “peacefully.”
“It [Marawi crisis] is almost over. Almost is because of the lives of the hostages,” the President said.
“We tried our very best to end this war peacefully. I never had the intention to destroy the holy shrines of the Islam faith. E madali mo lang pulpugin ‘yung mosque [It’s easy to destroy the mosques]. You just drop about a hundred bombs there and tapos lahat [it’s done], but you know, you have to be very careful about sensitivity of people,” he added.
On Tuesday, the President said he hopes the crisis in Marawi would be resolved in one week.
“We are also suffering from a severe case of terrorism. We’re coping up. We hope that it would be finished in about one week. We have suffered casualties, the biggest so far in my present year. And I am sad that terrorism has arrived in my land,” he said.
Duterte earlier said that government planned to finish the battle with the Maute group last September but that did not materialize.
In a chance interview on Wednesday, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said security forces are exhausting all means to end the armed conflict in Marawi City “within the next few days.”
On Monday, Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr. said government forces were still engaged in a firefight with around 40 to 50 Islamist fighters.
On May 23, Maute fighters stormed Marawi City while the military was conducting a manhunt operation against Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon.
It was believed that the Maute group and Hapilon, the purported emir of IS in Southeast Asia, were conniving to establish an enclave for fighters in Southeast Asia.
Duterte, in a bid to thwart the Islamist extremists’ plan, placed Mindanao under martial law. The order stays until December 31.
Since the Marawi crisis erupted up to Thursday, 813 terrorists, 160 security personnel and 47 civilians have been killed.