Bad weather stops another Duterte attempt to go to Marawi

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 07 2017 07:59 PM | Updated as of Jul 07 2017 08:45 PM

In military attire, Commander-in-Chief visits troops in Iligan City Army camp first, but had to skip Marawi.

MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday made another attempt to visit conflict-stricken Marawi City but did not push through due to inclement weather. 

In battle attire, the President first paid a visit to the 2nd Mechanized Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army in Barangay Maria Cristina, Iligan City around 4 p.m., the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) said. 

The President was supposed to go to Marawi City next, but decided not to push through because of foreboding skies, the Palace communications office said.

"We were circling many times but we could not penetrate... We waited in the camp for the skies to clear up," Duterte said in an interview aired on PCOO's Facebook page.

The President said he had wanted to visit the besieged city to show his support to troops battling extremists in what was once a bustling urban hub.

"It can't be that you'll just go there during peace time," Duterte said in a mix of English and Filipino.

"It's not that I am putting myself in jeopardy, but somehow, during the fighting, you show yourself," said the President, known for his staunch support for the uniformed services.

Photos released by Malacañang showed the President in a camouflage outfit, a firearm slung on his right shoulder. 

This is not the first time Duterte attempted to go to Marawi. Last month, the President also planned to go to the besieged city but did not push through also due to foul weather.

The President had earlier made known his desire to mark his first year in office in the besieged city.

In the interview, Duterte said he would wait for the advice of military ground commanders on whether or not he should lift martial law in Mindanao, which he declared on May 23 when violence erupted in the city.

The 60-day declaration is due to lapse on July 22, and clashes between state troops and Islamic State-linked extremists continue.

"If they say that everything is okay, then that is the time I lift martial law," he said.

Duterte would need Congressional approval to extend his declaration. 

Since the conflict began, the President has been making rounds of military camps, rallying troops amid continuing operations against the militants. 

Duterte has promised never to negotiate with terrorists, despite reported overtures for back-channel talks. 

Government offensives in Marawi City are now on the seventh week as terrorists have shown no signs of giving up despite relentless bombings and ground operations of state troops.

From the original number of forces of about 500, the military said the number of terrorists still holed up in the city is now down to about 80. These include leaders of the Maute group and Abu Sayyaf senior leader Isnilon Hapilon.

The military has been having a hard time retaking parts of Marawi still controlled by the terrorists, as snipers from the enemy side still lurk around the conflict zone. Government forces were also being careful in advancing towards enemy positions due to the presence of booby traps.

About 300 civilians, including the terrorists’ hostages, remain trapped in the battle zone, preventing state forces from going all-out against the enemies.

At least 479 people - 353 suspected terrorists, 39 civilians, and 87 government troops - have died since battles began.

While the government has put the civilian death toll at 39, the military believes this could “increase significantly” as troops have yet to reach other parts of the city where some trapped civilians were feared to have been executed.

About 400,000 civilians from Marawi and outlying areas have also been displaced as a result of the fighting.

As the government expects a prolonged battle with the terrorists, a tent city will soon be set up to accommodate the displaced residents.

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-ISIS 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.