As the siege in Marawi entered its 100th day on Wednesday, President Rodrigo Duterte gave the military the option to bomb the last remaining hold-outs of the Islamic State-linked Maute Group in the war-torn city.
In his speech during the 23th anniversary of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority in Taguig City, Duterte said the Marawi siege is taking too long because he stopped the bombing of a mosque where the terrorists are holding hostages.
“I will admit to you now, bakit matagal ‘yung siege sa (Marawi), matagal na yan sa on-deck na talagang gusto bobombahin ang (why is the siege taking so long? The military had long wanted to bomb the) mosque to capture or kill their leaders there and in the process to sacrifice the hostages who are all Filipinos. I said no, it will just create more animosity and outright hostility against the government. Hindi tayo papatawarin ng Maranao nyan (The Maranao people will never forgive us),” he added.
But Duterte said some lawmakers told him there could not be a stalemate in Marawi for a year if the siege continues.
“Sabi ko dahan-dahan lang (I said let’s take it slow, but up to this time, there is a stalemate. And some senators told me, you know mayor, there has to be a time when you have to stop, stopping the Armed Forces. The last time I was there, around five days ago, I finally said, the options is already yours because we cannot have a stalemate for over one year,” the President said.
The military had bombed a number of areas in the city where the terrorists were holed up but avoided bombing the Grand Mosque.
Low on food
The remaining members of the Maute Group in Marawi City are low on food and ammunition, the military said on Wednesday.
Col. Romeo Brawner, Deputy Commander for Task Group Ranao, said the protracted battle is drawing to a close.
The fighting in Marawi reached its 100th day on Wednesday.
“There are a lot of indicators that this battle is about to end. First of all, the stronghold areas by these Maute terrorist group members are getting smaller,” Brawner said in a television interview.
“We believe that they are already running out of ammunition and food, that is why we believe that hopefully, within the next few weeks, the Marawi siege would end,” he added.
As of the latest military count, at least 617 Maute terrorists have been killed and state troops recovered 667 firearms.
Brawner believes that top Maute leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Abdullah and Omarkhayam, Maute are still inside the battle area.
“We are making sure that no one will escape our main battle area here in Marawi City,” Brawner said.
Even if the number of Maute members have been greatly reduced, the military officer said the terrorists are still holding hostages.
Armed Forces chief Gen. Eduardo Año had said the military is gearing for a final big battle because of the death of Maute patriarch Cayamora.
“We are making sure that while we are doing our assault on the Maute terrorist group, we are making sure that we will spare the lives of the hostages inside the battle zone,” Brawner said.
Also on Wednesday, Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr. called on the public to support troops in Marawi City and pray for an early resolution of the conflict.
So far, 133 soldiers have been killed in fierce battles that started on May 23.
“Our troops are doing their best and working overtime to end hostilities with the hope of rescuing the remaining hostages and expediting the road to normalcy of the City of Marawi,” Padilla said in a statement.
“We owe it to each and every peace loving Filipino to liberate Marawi at the soonest possible time from the clutches of the remaining terrorists who continue to defy our laws,” he added.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana lamented that the fighting spared no one.
“In such a short time, violent extremism and terrorism claimed countless number of lives, damaged properties, and shattered a thriving city with rich customs and traditions,” Lorenzana said in a separate statement.