PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte is unlikely to lift martial law in Mindanao before the end of 2017 because of a possible spillover of violence brought about by the fighting in Marawi City to the Muslim autonomous region.
In remarks before the military’s Eastern Mindanao Command in Davao City on Friday, the President said he wanted the conflict over soon, but would rely on the military’s recommendation on when to lift martial rule, which he imposed on May 23 after the attack on Marawi by the Islamic State (IS)-linked Maute group.
“I was thinking that we could lift it (martial law) earlier but the way it looks, there’s a possible spillover (of the Marawi conflict) in ARMM and in Buldon,” Duterte said, referring to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and Buldon, Maguindanao.
“Let us see. If it is to the interest of the country that I will lift it, I will lift it. But if not, we just have to continue with the martial law. And mind you, when I said that I leave it to the military and the police to solve the problem, ‘yun na ‘yun. Hindi na ako makialam (I won’t interfere),” he said during ceremonies marking the command’s 11th anniversary.
“I enjoin the troops to continue being faithful to their sworn oath to protect and defend our sovereignty and our peoples, especially as martial law remains in effect in Mindanao, amid the persisting threats of terrorism and insurgency,” the President added.
Duterte placed the entire Mindanao under martial rule on May 23, the day the Maute group attacked Marawi City. In July, Congress granted Duterte’s request for an extension until yearend.
Fighting has so far claimed the lives of 620 Islamist fighters, 136 state forces, and 45 civilians. Three more names were added to the list of soldiers killed on Friday when an improvised explosive device exploded at the strategic Bangolo Bridge, which the military was retaking
Duterte, in a speech on Wednesday, said he told government troops engaged in the conflict in Marawi City that the options were theirs on how they would end the war.
“I instructed them to act slowly. But up to this time, there is stalemate. And other senators said, ‘There has to be a time when you have to stop – stopping the armed forces,’” Duterte said.
“The last time I was there, around five days, six days ago, I finally said the options [are]already yours because we cannot have a stalemate for over one year,” he added.
The lengthy battle has allowed government forces to retake the grand mosque in Marawi City, which is deemed as the Islamic city’s “most significant landmark.”
Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr. said that the troops conducted an “envelopmental approach” to ensure that the Muslim place of worship would not be damaged.
Duterte admitted that security forces wanted to bomb the mosque to expedite the operations against the Islamist fighters.
He, however, reminded the troops that they must not resort to such violence because it would only cause “more animosity and outright hostility against the government.”
“They really want to bomb the mosque to capture or kill their leaders there and in the process, sacrifice the hostages who are all Filipinos – maybe Maranao and a mingling of Christians and Tagalogs,” Duterte said.
“I said no, it will just create more animosity and outright to hostility against the government. Maranaos will not forgive us…. So that’s the story why it’s taking so long,” he added.
Marawi war over in weeks – Lorenzana
Clashes between government troopers and Maute terrorists will likely end in three weeks to one month, with soldiers treading carefully in clearing mosques supposedly housing some extremists, according to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.
“I am happy to announce that the crisis in Marawi is about to end,” he told reporters Thursday night.
“What the ground commanders have told me is that, maybe, there will be three weeks to one month until this war ends. The mosques serve as a big challenge, so as much as possible, we do not want to assault the mosques that is why our troops are being careful,” Lorenzana added.
Lorenzana also said it would possible for the Maranaos to go back to their houses before the holidays.
Armed Forces chief Gen. Eduardo Año had said the Maute’s strongholds covered only 500 square meters of the city, but according to the Defense chief, “it’s still big enough.”
“Even if you say that 250 meters on the other side, and 250 on the other, that is still one quadrant which is still considered as a big [area],” Lorenzana said.
At least nine buildings, the most damaged by the conflict in the Islamic city, were recently cleared by soldiers, the military said.
Lorenzana said Task Force Bangon Marawi, which he leads, had begun putting up shelters to be distributed to displaced Marawi citizens.