THE military is “able and willing to deal” with any new terrorist threat that might surface, Malacañang said on Monday.
The statement came after Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Amanda Gorely told The Manila Times the terrorists responsible for the Marawi conflict could be regrouping and powering up for another strike elsewhere.
In a news briefing, Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said the government was monitoring the situation and won’t be afraid to strike back if a violent situation arose.
Roque also said that Gorely’s statement only verified what the government already knew.
“I think that has been a shared view with our armed forces, which prompted in fact the decision to extend the declaration of martial law in Mindanao,” Roque said.
To quell the Marawi conflict, President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law and suspended the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao for 60 days. The declaration was extended until the end of 2017 and then for the whole of 2018 to provide security to rehabilitation efforts.
In the interview, Gorely said many pro-Islamic State (IS) fighters got out of Marawi and might be making plans to strike again.
Several Australian authorities are keeping a close eye on the region.
Murad Ebrahim, the chairman of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), also said last week that IS-inspired terrorists in Mindandao planned to initiate another siege in either Iligan City or Cotabato City.
The conflict in Marawi started on May 23 last year after a joint operation of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to capture Isnilon Hapilon, the emir or chieftain of the IS in Southeast Asia, ended in a clash with extremists.
The war waged on for five months and the deaths of Hapilon, along with Omarkhayam “Omar” Maute, the leader of the terrorist group “Maute,” in one of the buildings in the war-torn city on October 16, signaled its end.
The war left 942 terrorists, 168 soldiers and 47 civilians dead.
Office of Civil Defense Assistant Secretary Toby Purisima said in a news briefing last Friday that the total damage caused by the siege amounted to approximately P11.5 billion. The recovery and rehabilitation of the city could cost about P51.6 billion.
Military looking into reports
The military is verifying and monitoring a report that terrorists behind the Marawi siege are regrouping, a spokesman for the AFP said on Monday.
Brig. Gen. Bienvenido Datuin Jr. said the military was in close coordination with its local and international counterparts.
“The main concern of the security sector is not only to address the armed component but the financial and logistics line of terrorist organizations,” Datuin said in a statement.
However, Datuin admitted that security measures being enforced by authorities—whether international or local—would always have a “gap.”
“Terrorists will always look into those gaps and take advantage of them. We aim to strengthen our security measures with the help of our citizens in order to fill in those gaps,” he said.
To prevent another siege, the PNP has been surveying major cities in Mindanao.
PNP Chief Ronaldo de la Rosa said in a news briefing the police were validating an intelligence report that IS-inspired terrorists were in the process of recruiting members.
De la Rosa said he had sent Directorate for Operations director Camilo Pancratius Cascolan to Davao City to survey the city.
Task force ready
In Marawi City, Joint Task Force Ranao deputy commander Col. Romeo Brawner told reporters the military would be ready for any war that might happen in Marawi or elsewhere.
Brawner said the military was “re-writing its own doctrines, regrouping, retraining, increasing its capacity building and increasing its intelligence information gathering in Mindanao.”
“We have learned from the lessons of the recent urban warfare in Marawi,” he added.
As part of its preparations, the Joint Task Force Ranao has been examining the types of unexploded ordnance found in the war zone to determine their sources and avoid mishaps in the future.
“From May 2017 to February 2018 more than 2,800 pieces of unexploded ordinance have been found during the clearing operations,” Brawner said.
As a result, the military has banned all civilian activity or travel into the war zone.
Marawi City mayor Majul Gandamra said an increasing number of families wanted to seek shelter in the some areas within the main battle area but were blocked by authorities.
WITH RALPH U. VILLANUEVA, ROY NARRA AND TED KHAN R. JUANITE