MANILA - As Islamic State-linked terrorists continued to rampage in the southern city of Marawi, President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday vowed to fight for peace until "the last day of this administration."
"Sometimes, I am almost tempted to conclude that peace might not be able to come during our lifetime. But, believe me, it will not be for want of trying," Duterte said during his second State of the Nation Address.
"And I will persist on our goal of attaining peace to the last day of this administration and maybe even beyond, although in a different capacity."
The defense top brass has admitted it underestimated its enemy and is struggling to finish off the highly organized, pro-Islamic State fighters who have continued to repel the military's ground assaults and air strikes since clashes began on May 23.
On Saturday, lawmakers approved Duterte's request to extend martial law in Mindanao until the end of the year, granting greater powers to security forces to go after extremists with a reach that goes far beyond Marawi.
Duterte defended martial rule, calling it the "fastest way to quell the rebellion at the least cost of lives and properties."
"We will not be disheartened, we will not be cowed, we will not be overwhelmed. It is during trying times and troubled events that the resilience, perseverance and determination of people are tested," the President also vowed.
"The Filipino is no stranger to situations like the one we face today. We can and we will overcome, as we did countless times in the past."
More than 500 people have been killed, including 45 civilians and 105 government troops since the fighting erupted two months ago.
On Friday, Duterte said the fighting may soon be over, while National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said the combat zone in Marawi City was now limited within three villages as only about 60 to 70 terrorists remain holed up in the battlefield.
Southern Philippines has been marred for decades by insurgency and banditry. But the intensity of the battle in Marawi and the presence of foreign jihadists fighting alongside local militants has raised concerns that the region may be becoming a Southeast Asian hub for Islamic State as it loses ground in Iraq and Syria. --With Reuters