Malacañang on Saturday assured the public that state forces would comply with President Rodrigo Duterte’s order not to bomb mosques in Marawi City amid the military’s intensified operations against the Islamic State-linked Maute terrorists in the war-torn city.
In a statement, Palace spokesman Ernesto Abella said the government troops were one with the President in preserving Muslims’ places of worship in Marawi City.
“The Commander in Chief and our Armed Forces are taking pains to preserve places of worship as is the case with the Grand Mosque of the City of Marawi,” Abella said.
“Although exemptions have been provided by international conventions that allow force to be employed, we have deliberately chosen to preserve it and so with other places of worship in the main battle area,” he added.
Abella also said the military, upon the supervision of Armed Forces of the Philippines chief-of-staff Eduardo Año, was making sure to keep the public safe and secure amid the three-month long armed conflict.
“Año, in compliance with the Commander-in-Chief’s guidance, has made the safety of civilians and the rescue of hostages as primordial concerns of our forces,” Abella said.
“Military operations continue to remain intense and focused, with the safety of hostages in mind, in the hope of bringing a quicker end to the rebellion and retake Marawi from the evil hands of the Maute terrorist rebels,” he added.
Abella’s statement came a few days after Duterte said the security forces could lay down measures that would counter the hostile acts perpetrated by the Maute terror group, except to bomb mosques.
“Mind you, when I said I leave it to the military and the police to solve the problem, that’s it. I would no longer interfere, except on my advice regarding the bombing of mosque. I said no. Don’t do that because it’s hard to answer,” the President said.
On Friday, Duterte said he was 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 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.
Abella cited the latest development in the troops’ goal to liberate Marawi from terrorists—the retaking of Bayabao bridge in Banggolo, “a major battle area,” on Friday.
“Government forces have taken control of Bayabao bridge in Banggolo, which became a major battle area between government troops and members of the Maute Group,” Abella said.
“The retaking of this strategic bridge is an important development as we continue to gain the upper hand in the main battle area and expand our vantage positions with more troop deployments,” he added.