DEATH TOLL NEARS 200

Military vows ‘free’ Marawi by June 12

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The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Friday vowed to “liberate” the besieged Marawi City from the Maute terror group ahead of the country’s commemoration of Independence Day on Monday.

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During the “Mindanao Hour” news briefing in Malacañang, AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr. said the military was hoping to raise the Philippine flag on every corner of Marawi City on June 12, Independence Day, to signify the “unified stand” against the Islamic State (IS)-linked fighters.

AN ANGEL DESCENDS Actress Angel Locsin visits Marawi City evacuees in Iligan City on Friday, bringing cheers to displaced residents of the battle-ravaged Islamic city. Fighting between government troops and the Maute terrorists is on its third week, with close to 200 people dead. PHOTO FROM ANGEL LOCSIN’S FACEBOOK PAGE

“Rest assured, our soldiers are doing their part, they’re doing their best and are continuing on with this effort on the ground to facilitate the liberation of Marawi hopefully by Monday,” Padilla told reporters.

“Definitely, we should [raise Philippine flags in Marawi City on Independence Day]. And this is not only symbolic that we have maintained control over the area, even from the very start, but also symbolic of having the sentiments of the people in the area gravitate toward a common unified stand against these bandits,” he added.

Padilla said AFP Chief of Staff Eduardo Año had given instructions to wave Philippine flags in parts of the city.

“We’re working feverishly to do that to ensure we are able to do, to a big extent, what was announced by the chief of staff,” he said.

The AFP earlier missed deadlines it had set to clear the city of terrorists, citing several challenges that have prevented state forces from reclaiming the once vibrant Islamic city. Among the difficulties troops faced was the presence of civilians still trapped in the city.

On May 23, President Rodrigo Duterte placed the entire Mindanao under martial law after the IS-backed Maute group laid siege in Marawi City.

Speaking before troops of the 6th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, Duterte defended his declaration of martial law and hit back at critics questioning the extent of military rule.

“They are trying to think that we in government are trying to perpetuate ourselves in power,” Duterte said.

The President said he declared martial law because the AFP and the Philippine National Police told him the situation in Mindanao had “reached its critical moment.”

“I think the Armed Forces and the police would not aim for a war that would result in the killings of many lives,” Duterte said.

Up to Supreme Court

Asked about the petitions against his declaration of martial law, Duterte told reporters he would heed the decision of the Supreme Court.

The high court has received three petitions seeking to nullify Duterte’s martial law declaration. Two other petitions asked the high tribunal to compel Congress to convene in joint session to discuss the martial law declaration.

“It’s up to the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court says okay or not okay, we will withdraw…If ISIS comes back, let the Supreme Court appreciate that,” the President said during a chance interview, using another name for IS.

During the Palace briefing, Padilla said the imposition of martial law in Mindanao would continue even after clearing operations in Marawi.

He said the security forces have to first guarantee the security of the entire Mindanao island before they could recommend the lifting of martial law.

“There are follow-[ups]on actions that need to be done, in order to guarantee the whole security of Mindanao,” Padilla said.

“The decision of lifting martial law has to be assessed because we have to look at the whole Mindanao, not just the Marawi itself,” he added.

On Thursday night, the death toll as a result of ongoing clashes between government troops and the Maute group rose to 198: 138 extremists, 40 government troops and 20 civilians.

Top priority

The AFP spokesman said the government forces’ top priority was to arrest the alleged IS emir in southern Philippines, Isnilon Hapilon, and Maute brothers Omar and Abdullah, all leaders of the Maute bandits.

“The end game is to have them (terrorist leaders) arrested, if we can arrest them. But if we cannot, then [the goal is]to neutralize them because I guess they will always fight it to the end,” Padilla said.

He also dismissed reports that Hapilon had escaped Marawi City

Padilla said the bandits were holed up in only three villages in the city.

“We are confident that our troops are gaining important headway inside these areas…the world of terrorism inside the city is growing smaller by the day,” he said.

Padilla assured the displaced families of Marawi City that the government would “reconstruct, rehabilitate, and rebuild” the city after the battle.

Marawi City will never be attacked again by any terror group, he vowed.

“We will not allow any lawless activities to prosper again. We will help restore Marawi in soonest time, with the guarantee that it will be more resilient when we leave it,” Padilla said.

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