PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has lauded government forces fighting Islamic State (IS)-linked terrorists in conflict-torn Marawi City, saying he would not abandon them.
“I am commending our troops of the Republic of the Philippines on the ground for your relentless effort and determination in our goal to retake the city of Marawi from the Maute group and the other local terrorist groups,” Duterte said in a video message released by the Presidential Communications Office Monday night.
“My salute goes to all of you there. Maraming salamat. Mabuhay kayong lahat. Hindi ko kayo kalimutan at hindi ko kayo pababayaan [Thank you. Long live to you all. I will not forget you. I will not abandon you],” he added.
Duterte urged government troops to intensify offensives against the terrorists who were supposedly planning to establish an IS province or wilayat in Mindanao.
“I urge you to remain steadfast and alert as martial law in Mindanao will remain in effect to counter the persistent threat of terrorism and insurgency,” he said.
“The people of Marawi will also need your assistance as they rebuild their lives and homes once our military operations come to a conclusion.”
Duterte’s message was released on the 42nd day of his declaration of martial law in Mindanao.
The six-week long firefights, which began on May 23, have left over 450 dead, including 85 government troops and 39 civilians.
66 men arrested
In a news briefing on Tuesday, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana disclosed that 66 individuals had been arrested for being involved in the rebellion in Mindanao.
Most of them were members of the Maute and Romato families involved in the Marawi attack, the military said.
“They infiltrated slowly so that the people there would not realize that there were a lot of them. So, we do not know the exact number of the Maute fighters left but we expect that they are already highly degraded,” Lorenzana said.
The Defense chief estimated that the armed conflict in Marawi City could end within a week, noting that areas held by the Maute were getting smaller.
“It will depend on the intensity of resistance by the enemy. It could be shorter but if they will be stronger and they will fight to the last, then it will be longer,” Lorenzana said.
At least 90 percent of Marawi City have been cleared of fighters by government forces, while 10 percent remain in the hands of the Maute group, which include the four barangay (villages) occupied by the terrorists, Lorenzana said.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) also disclosed on Tuesday that the Maute group had forced hostages to loot half a billion worth of cash and jewelry in Marawi City.
Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr., spokesman for the AFP, cited reports from the rescued hostages inside the battle zone that at least half a billion were stolen by the terrorist group.
Seven hostages were able to escape from the Maute lair where they were held. A few days later, a lone hostage was able to flee from the terrorist group. The former hostages made the revelations to government authorities, Padilla said.
There’s a schedule for the looting: 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. onwards.
“The looted items were brought to a central storage in a mosque and received by designated Maute members who were keeping a list for accounting,” said Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., head of Task Force Marawi.
with DEMPSEY REYES