MANILA– Clashes in besieged Marawi City are now limited to two barangays as the conflict stretched into its 67th day, the military said Friday.
Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Brigadier General Restituto Padilla Jr. said Friday that fighting remains in less than a square kilometer of Marawi City and that efforts continued to clear more buildings previously held by terrorist snipers.
He said about 60 Islamic State-inspired terrorists remain holed up in the battle zone.
“Our troops are in a very high state of morale, all leaning forward to finish this operation at the soonest time possible,” Padilla said in a news conference in Malacañang.
“Despite the number of casualties and wounded that we have had in the past few weeks, this does not deter the troops and our ground commanders from pursuing the mission and accomplishing the much-needed liberation of Marawi,” he added.
The military said the death toll from the long-drawn siege has risen to 630: 471 terrorists, 45 civilians, and 114 state troops.
Government is now preparing to rehabilitate and rebuild the once vibrant Islamic city, even as it continues to address the needs of thousands displaced by the conflict.
Assistant Secretary Kristoffer James Purisima, deputy administrator at the Office of Civil Defense, said transitional shelters are being proposed to be built on an 11-hectare area in Barangay Sagonsongan in the city.
A 13-hectare area was also allotted for vegetable production while government is set to identify farmers among the displaced, Purisima said.
The government has also been preparing for the conduct of the rapid damage assessment and needs analysis (RDANA) as part of rehabilitation and rebuilding efforts.
“They have been briefed on the data that they should gather and verify, and the IDP (internally displaced people) statistics that are needed, and also the situation on the clusters,” Purisima said.
“We expect the report of this RDANA to be available by next week and this will assist in the formulation of the post-conflict needs assessment in Marawi and other affected localities.”
Padilla, meanwhile, sought more patience from displaced residents who have been wanting to return to their homes even as firefights continued.
The military said it was not an ideal time for residents to return to their respective homes in and near the battle zone due to the presence of terrorist snipers and improvised explosive devices in the area.
“Naintindihan po natin ang sentimyento ng ating mga kababayan. Kasi kung maski kayo man o ako ang naroroon, siyempre ang gugustuhin ko, makabalik na doon sa tinitirhan ko, lalo na’t nakikita ko na patuloy na nagkakaroon ng pagsabog, pagbobomba,” Padilla said.
”Iyung mga bagay na ‘yan ang atin pong kinokonsidera dahil naka-survive ka nga ng matagal sa isang evacuation center, pero pagpasok mo naman sa bahay mo, sinalubong ka ng IED, nawakasan ang buhay mo, sayang lang," he added.
President Rodrigo Duterte placed the entire Mindanao under martial law on May 23 after ISIS-linked militants led by the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups captured parts of Marawi in a bid to establish an Islamic State province in the Philippines.
The emergence of groups pledging allegiance to Islamic State has been considered the biggest security problem to face the year-old Duterte administration.
The rise of pro-Islamic State groups in the country has also raised alarm in Washington and the Philippines’ neighbors in the region, which fear that the notorious terror group was seeking to establish a new front in Asia amid its successive losses in Iraq and Syria.