MANILA– President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday said the crisis in Marawi City would soon be over, even as he expressed concern for the estimated 300 people still held hostage by terrorists who have laid siege on the city.
“The fight in Marawi would soon be over. [The] one thing that’s stopping us now is ‘yung sa mosque, it’s a big one, it has underground tunnels but not so much about that. May 300 na hostages sila. At sabi ko, we’ll just have to wait it out,” Duterte said in a speech in Davao City.
Military and security officials have expressed confidence that the crisis in the city is nearing its end, even while the President has asked Congress to extend the martial law declaration in Mindanao until the end of the year.
Duterte said he needs martial law to hasten rehabilitation of the war-torn city.
Still, the President said he can “operate without martial law”.
“I don’t need martial law. Kung ayaw ninyo, then we will just have to arrest persons because martial law gives me the power to arrest the person without a warrant,” he said.
“Now, ‘pag wala na ‘yan and if I have to arrest you without a warrant, I will arrest you without a warrant -- with or without martial law -- if I think that it is part of the war,” he added.
On Saturday, the two chambers of Congress are set to tackle in a joint session Duterte’s request to extend his May 23 martial law proclamation until Dec. 31 this year.
Under the Constitution, the initial martial law proclamation can only last for 60 days. An extension beyond this period would require Congress approval.
In a news conference Friday morning, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said the Islamist extremists, led by the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups, are only occupying less than a square kilometer of the city.
“This is where we have the built-up area, the center of the poblacion of Marawi. And so, we expect a slower advance but nonetheless, our troops are determined and they have learned so much from the past experiences,” Esperon said.
An estimated 60 to 70 terrorists remain holed up in the conflict zone, he said.
At least 571 people, mostly terrorists, have been killed since violence erupted in the city.