THE military and Islamic State-inspired extremists are battling it out for the last two barangays in the already three-month Marawi siege, military officials said Saturday, as displaced residents affected by the infighting may already return to their homes from evacuation centers.
“I am happy to inform the body that our operations in Marawi continue to date and positively progressive. The area of operation is confined to about two barangays or, to be exact, about two and a half barangays and confined to about less than one square kilometer of the most problematic areas,” Armed Forces spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said.
Some areas near Marawi City and around Lake Lanao have been declared as “safe zones,” Padilla said, allowing some residents from those areas to leave the evacuation centers and return to their communities.
But Padilla clarified the areas now classified as “safe areas” were far from the battle zone in Marawi City.
But those who want to return home would still need to secure a safe conduct pass after a screening process, to confirm their identities, adding returning residents would be escorted to ensure their safety.
The military spokesperson also gave assurances they were doing their best to immediately finish off the siege as the battle moves to its 68th day.
In related developments:
• The U.S. embassy in Manila said Saturday it had delivered 1,040 rocket motors with sizes of 2.75” and 992 2.75” rockets to the Philippine Air Force through America and Filipino Mutual Logistics Support Agreement and the security assistance program,” the embassy said in a statement.
The equipment delivery was made despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s failure to mention in his State of the Nation Address on Monday the help of his American allies in the current firefight between the government forces and the Maute rebel groups in Marawi City for two months now.
• Malacañang also thanked the United States after it donated two brand new Cessna—208 B Grand Caravan aircraft—expected to boost the fight against terrorism in Mindanao.
In a statement, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said the move reaffirmed the “strong” military alliance between the two countries, even as the relationship got strained because of President Duterte’s inflammatory remarks against the Western power.
“These aircraft would bolster the capability and readiness of our Air Force to help address terrorism and support our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations,” Abella, currently in the United States, said.
• From another front, Senator Emmanuel Pacquiao visited government troops in Camp Ranao Saturday, three days before he sent five of his Senate staff to distribute more than 3,000 packs of relief items to government troops there.
“I salute you for your bravery. I came here to express the support of the legislature for your campaign,” said Pacquiao, an Army reservist.
Pacquiao claimed he was not scared amidst gunbursts from the distance, saying “I grew up in a conflict area in Sarangani.”
As of July 27, 471 terrorists got killed while firearms recovered had been 576.
The number of civilians killed is 45 while those rescued is 1,723.
Padilla said all troops were in “a very high state of morale” and were all leaning forward to finish this operation soonest.
“Despite the number of casualties and wounded...this does not deter the troops and our ground commanders from pursuing the mission and accomplishing the much-needed liberation of Marawi,” he said.
In his Sona, Duterte devot6ed time to praise his new ally, the Chinese government, for granting the Philippines billions of loans to support the country’s infrastructure, agriculture, fishery, among others, with minimal interest of payment.
Through the MLSA, the AFP is able to receive select munitions and equipment from US military stock in an accelerated process reserved for allies and close partners of the United States.
“The munitions and weapons deliveries will enhance the AFP’s counter-terrorism capabilities, and directly support AFP members actively engaged in counter-terrorism operations in the southern Philippines, including Marawi,” the embassy stated.
The US government is also set to deliver another weapons, which includes 250 rocket-propelled grenade launchers and 1,000 M203 grenade launchers.
The US government will deliver those weapons to the Philippine Army through the security assistance program.
“The United States is a proud and steadfast ally of the Philippines and will continue to provide support to the AFP’s long-term modernization goals and counterterrorism needs,” the embassy said.
When Duterte assumed office, he declared his independent foreign policy, shifting Manila’s alliance from Washington, the country’s 70-year-old ally, to Beijing and Moscow.
But as soon as Donald Trump was seen as taking political power in the November 2016 elections, Duterte appeared to have toned down his scorn against Washington.
US Ambassador Sung Kim admitted that last year’s was a tough period for both countries but relationship had improved “dramatically” under his watch, or for the last six or seven months.
In June, the Philippine government requested the American forces to help the AFP to crush the Maute group and Abu Sayaff Group by deploying American special operation forces, and donating weapons for the country’s effort of counter-terrorism.
On Friday, the US embassy, through Sung, turned over P1.67 billion worth of two new Cessna 208B aircraft.
The P1.6 billion worth two aircraft will enhance the PAF’s counter-terrorism capabilities, and help protect AFP members actively engaged in counter-terrorism operations in the Southern Philippines, particularly in Marawi City.
Equipped with advanced sensors, cameras and communications equipment, these aircraft will significantly enhance the ability of the AFP to locate terrorist groups operating in Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago, the US said.
The PAF’s 300th Air Intelligence and Security Group, based out of Edwin Andrews Air Base in Zamboanga, will operate the two new C-208B aircraft.
300 AISG is the leading unit for air intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance operations for the AFP.
The deliveries had been the latest donation from the United States government, which over the last five years had allocated more than P15 billion of grant funding to provide the AFP with up-to-date equipment and training.
The equipment transfers, training, and continued bilateral exercises demonstrate the commitment of the United States to work with the Philippines in building capabilities towards eradicating global terror networks, military analysts said.
The United States, as a steadfast ally of the Philippines, continues to provide support to the AFP through both grant assistance and expedited sales of arms and munitions to support both long-term AFP modernization goals and urgent counterterrorism requirements.
For his part, Senator JV Ejercito sought the creation of an ad hoc committee tasked to oversee the rehabilitation of the Marawi City and other areas affected by the fighting.
“Considering the gravity of the destruction brought about by the Marawi crisis, there is a need for the creation of an ad hoc committee which shall exercise jurisdiction over all matters directly and principally relating to the construction and rehabilitation of Marawi City and other affected areas,” Ejercito said in his Senate Resolution No. 428.
He said the crisis had forced some 389,300 residents to flee their homes and sought temporary shelters in evacuation centers in nearby provinces.
“The continued crisis has left the city with ravaged and shattered buildings, houses, public infrastructures and utilities,” he said.
Senator Loren Legarda herself wants the Senate to inquire into the rehabilitation of war-torn Marawi City.
Under her proposed Senate Resolution No. 439, Legarda directed the Senate Committee on Finance to look into the recovery, reconstruction and rehabilitation plans of Task Force Bangon Marawi for Marawi City and all other areas affected by the ongoing armed conflict between government forces and the Maute group.
President Duterte, through Administrative Order No. 3, has established “Task Force Bangon Marawi” to facilitate the recovery, reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts in Marawi City and all other localities affected by the current conflict in the area.
“We must restore hope, dignity and peace in Marawi City and other affected areas. Much more needs to be done to provide basic necessities to families affected by the crisis,” said Legarda.
“We must ensure that in addition to immediate aid, they also have access to emergency employment and livelihood assistance even as the conflict continues,” she added.
She said the fighting in Marawi City between the AFP and the Maute group, which started on May 23, 2017, had led to widespread destruction of critical public infrastructure and facilities and private property.
The latest report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on the conflict in Marawi City estimates that the number of internally displaced persons has reached 351,168, with the number of IDPs staying at evacuation centers at 17,389 and the number of IDPs living with family/friends at 333,779.
“Rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts in Marawi and neighboring areas should include in its coverage not only public infrastructure but also private buildings and residences that have been destroyed in the fighting, taking into account the value of preserving local heritage, culture and religion,” Legarda said.
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