MANILA - (UPDATED) President Rodrigo Duterte has not suspended military offensives in the besieged city of Marawi during his State of the Nation Address (SONA), the military clarified Wednesday.
When Duterte told state troops to "wait it out," he was only reminding them to have patience and prioritize the safety of some 300 civilians being held by pro-Islamic State militants holed up in Marawi, explained AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla.
"Itong kautusan po ng ating mahal na Pangulo ay isa pong precautionary guidance po na ibinigay sa ating mga tropa. Hindi po nangangahulugan na hihinto po ang operasyon natin sa Marawi," Padilla said in an interview with DZMM.
"Pinag-aabisuhan niya lang po ang ating mga tropa, katulad po ng naging guidance po ng ating hepe na si General Eduardo Año, na pag-ingatan po ang ginagawang operasyon nang sa ganoon ang ating mga kababayan po na patuloy na naiipit at nasa kamay ng kalaban ay ma-rescue natin kung maaari."
(The order of our President is only a precautionary guidance for our troops. This does not mean that operations in Marawi will be suspended. He only reminded our troops, just like the guideline of our military chief Gen. Eduardo Año, to be careful in mounting operations so trapped and captive civilians could be rescued.)
Malacañang echoed Padilla's statement, saying Duterte only instructed troops to be more cautious.
"They cannot suspend that (offensives), but they need to proceed with caution," Presidential Spokesperson Ernest Abella said in a press briefing.
Security forces are struggling to finish off terrorists who swept through Marawi City on May 23 and have held parts of the once flourishing commercial district despite sustained ground attacks and airstrikes.
Duterte on Monday said he has instructed security forces to hold off assaults in Marawi for the safety of hostages.
"They have 300 hostages there and that is what is delaying [the operations]. Sabi ko, huwag mo muna i-assault if possible. We just have to wait it out," he was quoted as saying by a media report.
Padilla, however, said troops have sustained close combat operations against the terrorists.
INDESTRUCTIBLE HOUSES, HIDDEN BUNKERS
He added that the enemy was able to hold Marawi for over 3 months now partly because of the way houses there were constructed.
Marawi residents, he said, have faced frequent clan wars and a rebel attack in the 1970s, both of which prompted them to reinforce their homes with thick layers of cement, as well as build hidden bunkers and tunnels.
"Iyun nga po ang naging rason kaya sa ibang pinagtataguan, pinagkukubkuban ng kalaban, maski ilang beses na pong nabomba iyan, hindi pa rin po mapuksa ang puwersa ng Maute sa loob," Padilla said.
The battle for Marawi has killed more than 600 people, including 453 terrorists and 45 civilians.
On Saturday, lawmakers approved Duterte's request to extend martial law to the end of the year in all of Mindanao, granting greater powers to security forces to go after extremists.
Padilla said suspicious activities or human rights violations under martial rule may be reported by Mindanao residents through hotlines 74441678 for Smart subscribers and 26563 for Globe users.