MANILA – The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Friday assured the public that there would be no spillover of violence in areas outside Marawi City, saying enemy forces were no longer capable of launching another significant attack.
“Safe to say, I can tell you, they don’t have the capacity to do what they did in Marawi anymore. Their capabilities have been significantly degraded,” AFP Spokesperson Brigadier General Restituto Padilla Jr. said in a press briefing in Malacañang.
Padilla made the assurance amid reports that some militants have slipped out of the besieged city and were now in nearby areas such as Iligan City and Cagayan de Oro City.
The Islamic State-linked Maute and Abu Sayyaf terror groups have continued to repel government offensives in war-ravaged Marawi City for four weeks now.
The fighting has destroyed much of the city, displacing more than 320,000 residents.
“...[A]ny kind of action of that extent will not happen in Iligan and Cagayan de Oro. And we are taking up proactive measures to ensure that even an attempt to sow some confusion o sow terror in these areas by small actions will be prevented,” Padilla said.
Padilla also dismissed reports that some 300 armed militants were spotted in Lanao del Norte, saying such a mobilization would not go unnoticed by the military.
“Wala po silang ganyang balita doon, at maaaring ‘yan ay parte ng disimpormasyon na ikinakalat ng naiipit nang kalaban,” he said.
Padilla, nonetheless, said the possibility that some terrorists managed to slip out of the battle zone by mixing themselves with fleeing residents could not be dismissed.
“So there is a heightened security measure that is employed or enforced now in Iligan and Cagayan de Oro to check and to watch closely any possible movements of suspicious persons so that communities remain safe,” he said.
“And this is where we continue our call on the public particularly our citizens in these areas to be partners of increasing the security posture by being vigilant, alert, and watchful of their surroundings, and get to authorities’ attention whoever they see as suspicious-looking characters or whatever items that are left unnecessarily in any place,” he said.
President Rodrigo Duterte placed the entire Mindanao under martial law after local terrorist group Maute, backed by other local and foreign Islamist extremists, laid siege to Marawi City on May 23.
Clashes erupted as state forces attempted to arrest Abu Sayyaf senior leader Isnilon Hapilon, known to be the Islamic State’s point person in Southeast Asia.
The military said the attempted arrest preempted a bigger attack that the terrorists had planned to launch at the start of the holy month of Ramadan. However, Hapilon and Maute group leaders Omar and Abdullah remain elusive to authorities.
At least 26 civilians and 59 government troops have died since the clashes erupted. Some 600 residents meanwhile remain trapped in the battle zone, desperate for food and at risk of being executed by the Islamist militants.
Padilla said there have been numerous attempts to reach those trapped, but most rescue operations have been unsuccessful.
“There are efforts to reach the residents who are still trapped via text messaging and via loud speakers to forewarn them or give them advice on how to go about doing a safe escape,” he said.
The military has neutralized 225 extremists, but it continues to deal with scores more who are hiding in key spots in the city.