PHILIPPINE flags will be freely waved in every corner of Marawi City on June 12, the country’s 119th Independence Day, the military said Friday as it vowed to end the weeks-long rampage by extremists who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
Speaking to reporters, Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, however, said the imposition of military rule in the whole island of Mindanao might not be lifted right away despite the targeted liberation of Marawi, as “further assessment” would be required.
“[Our] soldiers are doing their part, they’re doing their best and are continuing with this effort on the ground to facilitate the liberation of Marawi, hopefully by Monday,” said Padilla in a news briefing at Malacanang.
Padilla said that the end game is to have Isnilon Hapilon and the Maute brothers 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,” he added.
Following offensives launched against enemy positions, the military noted that the volume of fire coming from the enemy has decreased and enemy activity has dwindled.
“So this continues up to this moment and we are confident our troops are gaining important headway inside these areas. And as I have mentioned the other day, definitely proving that the world of the terrorists inside the city is growing smaller by the day,” he said.
Padilla said that the military is looking forward to more cleared areas in the next few days, with only “three” remaining villages still under the control of the terrorists.
Despite the many missed deadlines, government troops are working overtime to liberate of Marawi, he said.
Local terrorists who pledged allegiance to Islamist groups had hoisted black ISIS flags around the city on May 23 after a failed attempt to serve warrants against top Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon and siblings Omarkhayam and Abdullah Maute, leaders of the Maute local terrorist group.
The Maute group attacks provoked President Rodrigo Duterte to impose martial law on the whole of Mindanao.
The government had earlier said the terrorist Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups, allegedly aided by foreign jihadists, were planning to establish an Islamic State wilayat (province) in Mindanao.
Padilla said that even if Marawi is cleared, martial law won’t be immediately lifted in the whole of Mindanao.
Padilla said military commanders on the ground would know when military rule should end.
“They knew about the breadth and width of the problem in Mindanao, and they know well and can answer these questions, because they have the authority [over the area],” the AFP spokesperson said.
The military on Friday also denied reports that Hapilon had alrady left Marawi City.
“This is not yet proven,” Padilla said.
While government troops continue to gain more foothold in the areas of the city, the Palace feared that some ancient “tunnels” within the city may have been used by the extremists.
“[There is an] additional compounding development, [which] is the discovery of tunnels that are possibly part of a network which may have been utilized by the enemy,” Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said.
The tunnel network was discovered in clearing operations by the military, Padilla said.
He played down the likelihood that these could have been used by Hapilon to escape.
Hapilon, whom the Islamic State reportedly anointed as its “emir” of an IS province in the Philippines, has a P10 million bounty on his head for his neutralization on top of the $5 million bounty earlier offered by the United States.
The Marawi clashes has led to the death of at least 38 soldiers and 138 members of the extremist group.
Padilla said Metro Manila remains safe from terrorist threats after the father of the Maute brothers, Cayamora Maute, was transferred for security reasons.
“Let us not overreact to these developments. The decision to transfer these high value prisoners has basis, and it would be better for their security to transfer them here at Manila than in areas where the declaration of martial law was raised,” Padilla said.
Cayamora and his daughter Norjannah Balawag Maute Tingao and her husband Benzar Ali, and one of Cayamora’s wives, Kongan Balawag, were charged for illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
Omar and Abdullah Maute, the leaders of the Maute terrorist group, together with Isnilon Hapilon of the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf Group, went on a rampage in Marawi City on May 23. They continue to hold parts of the city amid a military offensive to clear the city of terrorists.
Padilla said that the military and police have full control over Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig, where the Maute patriarch is detained.
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