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Friday, September 29, 2017

Duterte hopes Marawi battle over 'by the end of the month'

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday said he hopes that the deadly Marawi siege, which has dragged on since May, will be over by the end of the month despite the military’s failed attempts to meet previous deadlines to retake the city.

“Today, we are still fighting but I hope that by the end of the month, we’d be able to resolve the issue,” Duterte said in a speech in Eastern Samar.

“As I have said, we are all Filipinos and if, by the grace of God, we’re able to finish everything, the business of stopping the rebellion, not necessarily killing, we will be happy,” he added.

A failed attempt by government troops to arrest Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon in Marawi on May 23 triggered the battle against the Maute group, homegrown jihadist militants who claim allegiance with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and backed by some foreign fighters.

The urban warfare prompted Duterte to place the entire Mindanao region under military rule. After the declaration reached the 60-day limit, Congress overwhelmingly voted to extend martial law in the strife-torn region until yearend.

Last June, the military said it would no longer set timetables for operations against the ISIS-linked extremists.

Security forces originally sought to finish the operations against the Maute militants last June 2 but stiff resistance and the presence of trapped civilians prevented them from doing so. On June 4, Duterte said the crisis may be finished in “about three days” but the fighting persisted.

According to the president, the terrorists were still able to stockpile weapons and fight back despite their dwindling forces more than a month after the bloody standoff erupted.

He also assured the Maranaos, the dominant people of the Lanao provinces, that he would rebuild Marawi once guns fall silent and the dust settles.

“We knew that they were stacking arms. We knew that they were arms going around and passing around. But we never realized the extent of their ordnance and bombs, explosives and guns and ammunition,” he said.

“Sinabi ko naman sa mga Maranao, mga Moro doon na I will leave some of the soldiers of the Engineering Brigade to help rebuild your city. And we will do that. At sinabi ko, ‘We will rebuild Marawi.’”

Citing reports from troops on the ground, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters at the House of Representatives last Wednesday that the security crisis in Marawi “could be over at the end of this month.”

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