MANILA (UPDATE)- President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday visited soldiers still fighting to liberate Marawi City from Islamic State-inspired Maute extremists as clashes dragged on into its third month.
Duterte's second trip to war-torn Marawi was unannounced, just like his first visit to the conflict zone last July 20. Malacañang only informed the media of the visit when the President had already left the city.
Photos released by Malacañang showed Duterte speaking to soldiers and taking photos with them at Camp Kilala.
Special assistant to the president Bong Go said Duterte's visit was meant to boost the soldiers’ morale.
“I have to be here because I want all of you to know that… Mahal ko kayo (I love you all). I hope you will be able to clean up Marawi City and get rid of the terrorists,” Duterte said in his speech.
The President also reiterated his promise of putting up a trust fund for children of soldiers and police.
“'Yung promise ko na (My promise that) I will establish a trust fund of 50 billion when I go out of the presidency, that P50 billion will be dedicated solely [for] the education of your children,” he said.
Duterte also explained why he lashed out at his predecessor, former President Benigno Aquino III, for questioning the effectiveness of his administration's war on drugs, saying it seemed to have done nothing to reduce the number of drug users in the country.
“I am very sensitive sa ganitong issue kasi marami nang mga pulis at sundalo na nangamatay, so kung careless magsabi ka na walang nangyari, talagang mag-init ang ulo ko,” Duterte said.
(I am very sensitive in issues like this because many police and soldiers have died, so if you are careless in saying that nothing has happened, then I will really be mad.)
During his visit, Duterte inspected an improvised medical station for soldiers deployed in the conflict zone. The Commander-in-Chief was accompanied by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Eduardo Año, and Go during his visit.
The military on Friday said offensives were limited to just one square kilometer in the city more than two months since clashes erupted in May. Around 50 to 70 Maute extremists are meanwhile believed to remain holed up in the conflict zone.
Fighting between government forces and Maute extremists in Marawi City broke out on May 23 and has left 513 Maute members, 116 state forces, and 45 civilians dead.
It has left much of the once bustling urban center in ruins, displacing more than 200,000 residents from the city and thousands more from nearby towns.