AFP says declaration of Marawi liberation not premature

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 03 2017 04:25 PM

Soldiers pursue a suspected straggler in Marawi City after he was sighted in the main battle area on Thursday, Nov. 2. Suspected Indonesian terrorist Muhammad Ilham Syahputra, who was arrested Wednesday, claimed 39 more Maute terrorists and sympathizers remain in the main battle area. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News


MANILA – Despite the reported presence of stragglers in war-torn Marawi, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Friday insisted that the government did not prematurely declare the city’s liberation from Islamic State-inspired terrorists last week.

AFP Spokesperson Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr. defended government's declaration of the end of hostilities in Marawi City even while some terrorists were still known to remain in the battle area.

“Iyung declaration ng liberation ay iyong punto na wala na itong bearing. Iyung mga naiiwang stragglers, they are leaderless, they have no direction. They are merely fighting for survival. So they have no impact on the overall security of the place,” Padilla said in a news conference in Malacañang.

Duterte declared the liberation of Marawi City on Oct. 17, a day after government troops killed terror leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute.

On Oct. 23, exactly five months since the siege erupted, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the battle in the city was finally over.

Despite these declarations, several terrorists were reportedly spotted in the city. A suspected Indonesian terrorist identified as Muhammadin Ilham Syahputra was arrested in Lanao del Sur Wednesday as he was trying to flee from government troops.

Syahputra, who has been transported to Manila and slapped with rebellion and other charges, claimed that at least 39 Islamist extremists remain in Marawi City.

His claim was bolstered by the killing of two Islamist militants in a skirmish in the main battle area on Wednesday, where two government troops were also wounded.

One of the slain terrorists was identified as Abu Talja, alleged to be Hapilon's trusted aide.

Padilla said the presence of stragglers in the city was why government troops still bar the media and residents from going to some parts of the city, as operations are ongoing to capture the militants.

“One terrorist who is able to escape has the potential of inflicting harm on many of our nationals,” Padilla said.

According to Padilla, some 16 barangays which saw most of the fighting during the 5-month long siege remain off-limits to the media and civilians.


RESIDENTS RETURN HOME

While the city has yet to be completely rid of terrorists, government has allowed residents to go back to their homes in areas deemed safe.

Office of Civil Defense Spokesperson Kristoffer James Purisima said some 6,462 residents from 9 barangays have been allowed to return to their homes.

“To ascertain that returning IDPs (internally displaced persons) are legitimate Marawi City residents, identification cards are being issued by the respective barangays based on the rolls of census and voters’ registration,” Purisima said.

“Safety parati ‘yung concern natin kaya kailangan natin mag-implement ng ganitong measures. At ang local government units naman, the cities and specifically the barangays are very much involved here,” he added.

With the end of major hostilities in Marawi, government has shifted its focus on rehabilitating the once bustling city. The conflict left much of the former commercial center in ruins and displaced more than 200,000 residents. At least 1,100 were killed, most of them terrorists.

Temporary shelters for displaced families will be ready by December, the government promised, as authorities continued to clear the city of stray explosives.

Government has allotted P5 billion for the city's rehabilitation this year, while another P10 billion is set to be released next year. Lorenzana earlier said rebuilding the city may need up to P50 billion.

Earlier, the Office of the Civil Defense said rebuilding Marawi City may take 2 to 3 years.