MANILA - The Philippine military said it hoped to “liberate” Marawi by Monday, the country’s 119th Independence Day, and cited the waning volume of fire coming from the enemy as an indication that the pro-Islamic State groups’ loosening grip on portions of the besieged city would soon be weakened.
This would mean that every armed element in the city is either “neutralised, targeted or cleared,” said Armed Forces spokesman Brig- Gen Restituto Padilla.
But Padilla said that even if the conflict in Marawi would end, it would not mean that martial law would be immediately lifted because the extremists could have a presence in other areas of Mindanao, and the security of the entire island must be ensured.
The offensive against the extremists’ strongholds continued yesterday, and soldiers were gaining headway, he said.
“The chief of staff made an announcement hoping that by Monday, we can freely wave our flags in every corner of Marawi and we are working feverishly to do that, to ensure we are able to do to a big extent what was announced by the chief of staff,” Padilla said in a Palace press briefing.
The latest target date of June 12 was set after the government missed previous deadlines, with the Abu Sayyaf and Maute groups backed by foreign fighters putting up stiff resistance.
According to Padilla, authorities believe the nearly three-week Marawi siege would be over soon because the volume of enemy fire has gone down, and enemy activity in certain areas of the city has dwindled.
He said AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Año was “looking forward to more cleared areas in the next few days and is optimistic that our momentum and our phase is at the right manner”.
Fears had earlier been raised that the battle in Marawi would be prolonged, with officials noting that enemy forces have a mastery of the terrain and their positions were “well-defended”.
Their use of civilians as human shields and the presence of tunnels in areas under their control were also compounding the situation.
Padilla also said that before martial law could be lifted, there has to be an assessment as to whether this could be done following Marawi’s liberation because the security of the whole of Mindanao, not just of one city, has to be considered.
Padilla also said that government troops were still planning to raise the Philippine flag in Marawi on Monday for Independence Day even if the fighting continues. The act, he said, would symbolise that the government has regained control of the area.
As for the return of the residents, Padilla said authorities would give the signal once it is safe to go back to their homes. — Philippine Daily Inquirer/Asia News Network