President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday lamented the death of soldiers in the ongoing clashes in Marawi City as the armed conflict with Islamist rebels nears one month.
Duterte visited soldiers at the 4th Infantry Division in Cagayan de Oro and expressed grief over the fallen troopers.
"I want just to express my sincerest condolences at ako man ang unang nasasaktan diyan. Ako ang commander-in-chief niyo, ayoko talaga mag martial law, napipilitan lang ako dahil ang gulo sa Mindanao...,"he said.
"All these years, marami nang ano, mga isang taon na mas maraming patay na sundalo," he added.
The President also said military operations in Marawi are winding up, and raised concerns on rehabilitation efforts.
"I think we’re winding up the military operations over there. Ang sakit ng ulo ng gobyerno is yung rehab ng mga bahay, lalo na yung mga inosenteng walang kamuwang-muwang na Maranao nadamay doon," he said.
The military aimed to wrap up the fighting before the weekend Eid festival as they launched a fresh batch of offensives against terrorists Tuesday.
The offensive came amid worry that rebel reinforcements could arrive after Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Thousands have fled Marawi after clashes between state forces and extremists erupted last May 23. The firefight prompted the President to declare martial law in the whole island of Mindanao, a decision which he says was made out of necessity.
The President said, unlike Moro rebels, Abu Sayyaf and Maute terrorists only want to kill and destroy property.
"Ang gusto nila ke-ma Middle East o kung saan sila nakabase, puro patayan at sisiraan. 'Yun lang alam nila," he said.
As of Monday, the military said 257 militants, 62 soldiers and 26 civilians had been killed. Hundreds of people are unaccounted for, believed to be hiding in the basements of the city.--with a report from Reuters