The ongoing siege in Marawi City could be over “in a matter of days,” President Rodrigo Duterte said on Thursday, as he expressed confidence the government would win its war against the Islamic State (IS)-linked fighters.
Speaking before policemen at Camp Quintin Merecido in Davao City, Duterte said he was hoping the fighting would not last for another month as casualties have mounted.
“The way it’s evolving now, I think it will be a matter of days. Before the end of the month, matatapos na [it will be over]. We are winning the war, do not worry,” Duterte said in his speech.
“So I’m really very sad. I’m sorry to everybody, particularly civilians in Marawi. They got caught in the crossfire.
But I said, more than everybody else, I’m the one most hurt. I was the one who ordered to implement martial law.
But if I didn’t do this, I would be guilty of the violation of the Constitution,” he added.
The President said that fighting in Marawi is “slowing down” which indicates “that there is less resistance now.”
The military earlier set June 2 as its deadline to free Marawi of armed elements belonging to the Maute group, but failed to meet its self-imposed deadline. It again set a June 12 deadline to liberate Marawi City, but failed anew to wipe the city of terrorists.
Top security brass have expressed hope the siege in Marawi City could be ended before the President delivers his second State of the Nation Address.
The Maute men attacked Marawi on May 23, forcing the President to impose military rule over Mindanao.
As of 6 p.m. on June 28, 303 terrorists have been killed while 75 government troops have died in the fighting.
The number of civilians killed in Marawi is now 44, following the recovery of 17 decomposing cadavers.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) confirmed on Thursday that the 17 bodies retrieved by government security forces had traces of execution initiated by the Maute group.
Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr., AFP spokesman, said that among the recovered 17 civilian bodies, 12 were shot from behind while five were decapitated.
“Based on the initial report submitted by the SOCO (scene of the crime operatives), they were all executed…and some were shot from the back of their heads and five of those [bodies]were believed to be beheaded,” he told reporters in Camp Aguinaldo.
Rescued civilians totaled 1,711, while firearms recovered reached 362, the Palace said.
Padilla said government troops were pursuing the Maute men and looking for booby traps and hidden improvised explosives.
He also called on the public to have more patience with the military to resolve the armed conflict.
The military, he said, has installed Joint Task Force Group Ranao that will coordinate with members of local government units and other national agencies in preparation of the next phase of operations—the reconstruction, rehabilitation and rebuilding of Marawi City.
Fast rehab vowed
The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) on Thursday pledged to expedite the rehabilitation of strife-torn Marawi City, saying that the rebuilding effort would not suffer the same fate as the slow recovery program in the aftermath of Supertyphoon Yolanda that wreaked havoc in the Visayas in 2013.
In a news conference in Malacañang, Public Works Secretary Mark Villar said the government had learned from the previous Aquino administration, thus, would not allow affected families in Marawi City to suffer for long.
“The President is very clear on this and he expressed his disappointment in the facilities for Yolanda before. And definitely, hindi na po mauulit `yung nangyari [It will not happen again],” Villar told reporters.
The DPWH chief said a master plan for the rehabilitation of the war-torn city was in place.
“Currently, we’re coordinating with our ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) counterpart in order to implement [the plan]very quickly,” Villar said.
Villar said the government was ensuring that basic needs, such as electricity and water, of the displaced persons were addressed.
The Palace earlier announced a P20-billion budget for Marawi’s rehabilitation.
The President may visit Marawi City to mark his first year in office on Friday, the Palace said.
with DEMPSEY REYES