President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao late Tuesday, hours after government troops battled members of a local terror group in Marawi City.
The attack in the southern city prompted the President to cut short his visit in Russia.
Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, who is with the President in Moscow, said he will stay to sign several agreements.
The decision to return to Manila as soon as possible was made after Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao following fierce clashes between government troops and members of the Maute group in Marawi City.
“I have spoken to my counterpart here in Moscow and have explained the situation and they understand that the security of the Filipino people especially in Marawi and the whole Mindanao is a priority. They understand that the presence of President Duterte is essential in the Philippines but I will be staying behind. The agreements will be signed and we will have a bilateral meeting with the Honorable Minister of Foreign Affairs Lavrov,” Cayetano said in a news briefing.
Cayetano said Duterte “feels that he is needed in Manila as soon as possible” and Palace officials will announce when the President will be flying home.
Duterte was scheduled to be in Russia until May 25.
Soldiers and policemen battled dozens of gunmen protecting one of the world’s most wanted Islamic militants in Marawi City on Tuesday, authorities said.
At least one policeman was killed in the hunt for Isnilon Hapilon, a leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group, according to military chief of staff General Eduardo Ano.
The gunmen attacked a hospital during the clashes, Ano said.
“Please advise people to stay inside their houses. We will clear the area,” he said.
He said the fighting began when police and troops raided a house on Tuesday afternoon where Hapilon, the subject of a US State Department bounty of $5 million, was believed to be hiding.
This triggered fierce clashes throughout the afternoon and into the evening, with Ano estimating there were about 50 gunmen. Photos posted on social media by Marawi residents showed the gunmen walking through the streets of Basak, a Marawi suburb of about 1,700 people.
A woman who asked not to be named said that she saw about 10 armed men take up positions at the gate of a government hospital. Police clashed with the gunmen near the hospital, leaving one officer seriously wounded and one of the extremists dead, she added. The military said it could not confirm the militant’s death. Ano said eight security personnel had been injured in the clashes. LEENA CHUA WITH AFP