THE battle for Marawi ended Monday after government troops wiped out the remaining terrorists in the city, bringing the country’s most serious security crisis to close exactly five months after it started.
“We now announce the termination of all combat operations in Marawi,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters on the sidelines of a regional security meeting in Clark.
Lorenzana said there were no more Maute group terrorists after an intense final battle that left 42 of them dead.
“Those are the last group of stragglers of Mautes and they were caught in one building,” he said.
Earlier, ground troops pulverized the last fortified position of the Maute fighters. The dead included two women, believed to be the wives of foreign terrorists, as well as three Malaysian or Indonesian fighters.
“Forty two cadavers were recovered…they were all fighting our troops so they were terrorists. No more hostages are left, as they were all recovered a couple of days ago,” Lorenzana said.
Both Lorenzana and Armed Forces chief Gen. Eduardo Año said among those killed was Malaysian jihadist leader Amin Baco and four other foreign terrorists.
“In crushing thus far the most serious attempt to export violent extremism and radicalism in the Philippines and in the region, we have contributed to preventing its spread in Asia and [given] our share to maintaining global peace, stability and security,” Lorenzana said.
Año described the remaining fighters as suicidal, fighting to the last despite exhaustion and starvation.
Over the last five months, 920 Maute rebels and dozens of foreign fighters were killed, while 165 soldiers, three policemen and 47 civilians lost their lives.
Government troops rescued 1,780 civilians, including the Catholic priest Chito Suganob, who was taken hostage by the terrorists.
Hundreds of gunmen who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State rampaged through Marawi on May 23, then took over parts of the city using civilians as human shields.
President Rodrigo Duterte and security analysts said the militants were trying to establish a Southeast Asian caliphate in Marawi.
The ensuing military campaign to evict the militants claimed more than 1,000 lives, displaced 400,000 residents and left large parts of Marawi in ruins.
Duterte traveled to Marawi on Tuesday last week and declared the city had been liberated, shortly after top terrorist leaders Isnilon Hapilon, the Southeast Asian leader for IS, and Omar Maute were shot dead there.
Hapilon and Maute, along with hundreds of other militants, had been able to defy near daily bombing raids that left much of the city in ruins by sheltering in basements and traveling through tunnels, according to the military.
Duterte warned Filipinos against the possible resurgence of terrorist threats, despite the victory in Marawi City.
“I’m not trying to scare you, but let’s just be prepared for any eventuality. Terrorism is everywhere,” Duterte said in a speech at Bacolod City Sunday night.
“No nation has escaped from the clutches of the evil of the ISIS,” Duterte said. “It’s an ideology that is dedicated to just kill human beings and destroy…[their] heritage.”
The five months of fierce urban warfare held by pro-Islamic State militants marked the country’s biggest security crisis in years.
The military had earlier warned against lone wolf attacks that might arise despite the fall of Islamic State strongholds in Syria and in Southeast Asia—saying that threats posed by the Daesh still remain as the jihadist group and its networks were “increasingly becoming better.”
The Daesh are known to use propaganda to recruit lone wolves.
The Department of Public Works and Highways said Monday it has set aside P241.69 million for the construction of at least 300 temporary houses in Sagonsongan Village, Marawi City, for families affected by the war.
Public Works Secretary Mark Villar said the budget would cover the construction of houses, asphalt overlays and drainage work.
“The DPWH is now working on the transitory houses for Marawi siege evacuees,” Villar said.
“The area being developed by DPWH in Barangay Sagongsongan, Marawi City, can accommodate 1,100 families. We are doing everything we can to finish it by November,” Villar said.
“Currently, we are preparing a portion of the site where the National Housing Authority can build a total of 275 transitory houses,” he said.
“Once the sites are developed, NHA may begin the construction stage,” Villar noted. With Vito Barcelo