Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has set a new deadline to finish off Islamic State-linked Maute terrorists in Marawi City: one to two months.
Lorenzana told reporters Thursday night this was the assessment of ground commanders and troops in the war-torn Mindanao city.
“We have asked, we asked the people there last week, the troops and commanders said that one or two months [the war could end]. It is still long,” he told reporters.
President Rodrigo Duterte placed the entire Mindanao island group under martial law, under Proclamation 216, following the attack by Maute men in Marawi on May 23.
When the maximum 60-day period set by the Constitution ended, Congress extended military rule until the end of the year.
The military had said it could recommend an early lifting of martial rule if it was no longer required.
This was not the first time Lorenzana set a deadline to finish off the Maute fighters. On July 5, he said war would last for just three days starting. Twenty days later, the Defense chief said fighting could last a month and admitted that security forces had underestimated the strength of the Maute group.
In a speech at the National Defense College of the Philippines in Camp Aguinaldo on Thursday, Lorenzana admitted that the military got burned setting deadlines.
“We were in Russia when the fighting erupted [in Marawi City]. We suggested to the President if me, [Armed Forces chief] Gen. [Eduardo] Año and [National Security Adviser Hermogenes] Esperon Jr. should return in the Philippines, but the President said he would be joining us,” Lorenzana said.
Lorenzana said the President had told military troops not to hurry in ending the war, which has so far killed 128 soldiers, 45 civilians and at least 552 Maute terrorists.
“It will still last longer but as what the President had said, ‘do not be in a hurry’ because if they will be in a hurry to end this, a lot of our soldiers might be killed,” Lorenzana said.
‘More intel budget needed’
Lorenzana also said he would ask Congress to increase the budget for intelligence to avoid another conflict and to “replenish” the P2.5 billion the military had spent on the war in Marawi.
“We would like to acquire facial recognition, more drones that we can use day and night,” Lorenzana told reporters.
The war has so far cost between P2.5 billion to P3 billion, he said. An estimated P1.3 billion had been spent by the Philippine Army alone.
“Hopefully, we can ask Congress to replenish those funds because those funds were sourced from our other projects, so it can be utilized [by troops in Marawi City], especially the procurement of more equipment and bulletproof vests, helmets, night vision goggles and bullets,” the Defense chief said.