February 25, 2018, 1:35 pm
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Marawi freed from terrorists; rehab starts

AFTER almost five months of fighting between government forces and the Maute Group that left 1,000 persons dead, President Duterte yesterday declared Marawi City free from “terrorist influence.”

Duterte flew to Marawi a day after the military confirmed the deaths of Maute Group leader Omar Maute and Isnilon Hapilon, a senior leader of the Abu Sayyaf and supposed anointed leader of the Islamic State for Southeast Asia. 

He led flag-raising rites at the compound of the Jamiatul Philippines Al-Islamiyah school in Barangay Bangolo, one of several barangays in the conflict area.

“I hereby declare Marawi City liberated from the terrorist influence. That marks the beginning of rehabilitation of the city,” the President, wearing a camouflage cap and dark sunglasses, said during his seventh visit to the city since the siege started on May 23.

Armed Forces chief Gen. Eduardo Año said the Maute remnants “can now be considered a law enforcement matter and does not constitute serious threat to hinder the succeeding phases of national government programs.”

“What remains now is mopping-up operations against Maute-ISIS stragglers in a small area. We can now begin the next phase which is damage assessment which is part already of rehabilitation and reconstruction,” said Año.

Twenty to 30 terrorists, including six to eight foreigners, inside the less than two-hectare main battle area, according to AFP spokesman Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla. He said the terrorists are holding around 20 hostages.

Aside from Año, accompanying Duterte in Marawi were Defense Delfin Lorenzana, national security adviser Hermogenes Esperon, PNP chief Ronald dela Rosa, AFP Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, among others.

Padilla said President made the declaration “knowing the enemy force is no longer a force to reckon with.”

“Clearing operations are already underway to finish them off should they decide to continue the fight. Major operations have been concluded. The declaration was made to pave the way for the start of a full blown recovery, rehabilitation and rebuilding effort,” said Padilla.

Padilla said the President thanked the soldiers for their “sacrifice, dedication and gallantry” in the fight against the Maute.

Padilla also said the fighting has resulted in the death of 847 terrorists, Hapilon and Maute.

The conflict has also left 163 soldiers and policemen, and 47 civilians dead. Security forces rescued 1,770 civilians.

“There are still a few things to work on but essentially, there will be a slow transition that will allow the law enforcement agency to take over this (issue),” said Padilla.

Padilla said the liberation of Marawi will also mean that the number of soldiers deployed in Marawi City will be reduced. Officials earlier said about 5,000 soldiers have been sent to Marawi.

Col. Edgard Arevalo, chief of the AFP public affairs office, with the death of Hapilon and Maute, the Maute remnants have been reduced “to a mere police concern.”

“While there may still be remaining fighters, they are stragglers — leaderless and in disarray,” he added.

`JUBILATION’

ARRM assemblyman and Lanao del Sur provincial crisis committee spokesman Zia Alonto Adiong said the province welcomes with “jubilation” the liberation of Marawi.

Adiong said the provincial government never abandoned the provincial capitol “as a symbol of our resistance against terrorism.”

“Today, while we remember with sadness and great pain, the deaths, sufferings and loss of our people, we also rejoice in the thought that we may now focus on rebuilding, rehabilitating not only the physical infrastructures but more importantly, the social fabric of our community in the hope that we can truly have a peaceful, developed and a caring society in Marawi and its neighboring communities,” said Adiong.

Adiong said the provincial government is also paying respects to the soldiers who paid the ultimate sacrifice for the liberation of the city.

APOLOGY

Duterte, in Camarines Sur later in the day, said the liberation was not a cause for celebration and apologized to the people of Marawi for the destruction.

“We had to do it,” he said. “There was no alternative,” he said at a summit on federalism in Pili town.

“I just came from Marawi and by the grace of God, we have restored peace but that would not be a cause for a celebration because we have destroyed in the process the city which I admit because we had to do it. There was no alternative and I could only extend my apologies to the people, the Maranaos,” he said.

US LAUDS OPERATIONS

The United States hailed the military operation that resulted in the killing of Hapilon and Maute.

“We congratulate our partners in the Armed Forces of the Philippines for their reported success in killing two of the leaders behind the months-long clash in the city of Marawi,” said press attaché Molly Koscina.

The US government has a $5-million reward offer for the neutralization of Hapilon, on top of the P17.4 million offered by Philippine government. Omar has a P5-million bounty for his neutralization.

Koscina also said the US government will continue to assist the military in its counter-terrorist efforts by providing technical assistance.

“The US is proud to support the AFP’s counterterrorism efforts in Mindanao through intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities and other form of technical assistance,” she added. – With Ashzel Hachero and Reuters
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