PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte said the conflict in Marawi would finally be over by September’s end, four months after Islamic State-linked Maute terrorists laid siege to the city.
In Eastern Samar on Thursday, Duterte again admitted that the government underestimated the capabilities of the Maute terrorists.
“Actually, it is the SAF, the Special Action Force, which were organized to meet urban terrorism. Nabigla lang talaga tayo doon (We were caught off-guard). We knew that they were stacking arms. We knew that there were arms going around and passing around. But we never realized the extent of their ordnance and bombs, explosives and guns and ammunition,” he said in remarks marking the 116th anniversary of the encounter between Filipinos and American troops in Balangiga.
“Today, we are still fighting but I hope that by the end of the month, we’d be able to resolve the issue,” the President said.
Duterte reiterated that there was no need for celebration.
“And my orders to the military is that kung manalo man tayo (if we win), we do not celebrate any victory in Mindanao, simply because we are waging a war actually against our own people and it would not look good, especially people who have adopted other religions,” he said.
Duterte then assured the Maranao people of Marawi and the Lanao provinces that he would rebuild the city.
Fighting in Marawi City started on May 23 when military and police personnel tried to arrest Abu Sayyaf subleader Isnilon Hapilon, who was supposedly named “emir” of the Islamic State in Southeast Asia.
Government troops encountered stiff resistance from Islamist terrorists belonging to the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups. This led Duterte to declare martial law in Mindanao.
The military has already missed three deadlines to retake the war-torn city.
Security officials originally aimed to finish their operations in Marawi City by June 2. However, this was not met as government troops continued to experience heavy resistance from Maute rebels entrenched in the city.
Duterte then said on June 4 that the Marawi siege would end in “about three days.”
After this, the military said it would seek to liberate the town on June 12, the 119th anniversary of Philippine independence from Spain. This goal was also not met as clashes persisted and casualties mounted.
Coins and IEDs
On Friday, the military said the Maute terrorists placed coins inside improvised explosive devices, with currency looted from war-torn Marawi. This explains why coins were found in the wounds of some soldiers.
Citing aerial footage, Col. Romeo Brawner, Task Group Ranao deputy commander, said Maute members were “pillaging” and “looting” structures inside the main battle area.
“We can see items/boxes/sacks being taken from a seemingly residential building. This reinforced the revelations of rescued former hostages that the terrorists were looting important materials inside the MBA (main battle area),” Brawner said in a statement.On Thursday, military troops recovered four ATM money vaults from a Land Bank of the Philippines building, Brawner said. These were turned over to the security manager of the state-owned bank.
“The money vaults were not opened. Some were obviously burned but were intact,” he said.
The military also said former Maute hostage Lordvin Acopio, who was rescued alongside Fr. Teresito Soganub on September 16, had disclosed that some terrorists hid inside vaults while the Air Force conducted air strikes.
More than 900 persons have already been killed in the Marawi battle, the Armed Forces of the Philippines said on Friday.
At least 736 Maute members have been killed in clearing operations conducted by state forces, and 789 firearms were seized.
Fighting has also claimed the lives of 153 uniformed men and 47 civilians.
A total of 1,733 civilians have been rescued, the military said.