(UPDATED) - President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday visited strife-torn Marawi City, his fourth since clashes between state troops and Islamic State-inspired extremists erupted in the predominantly Islamic city.
Malacañang said President Duterte visited parts of the city which witnessed fierce battles between state forces and terrorists, such as the Grand Islamic Mosque which used to be under the control of the Maute group.
Duterte proceeded to Mapandi Bridge and to the main battle area. He spent an hour to attend the command conference with the Joint Task Force Marawi. He then greeted soldiers and gave them goods.
The President arrived in the city at around 2 p.m., accompanied by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Armed Forces chief Eduardo Año and Special Assistant to the President Christopher “Bong” Go.
Several gains have been achieved since Duterte made his last visit to the city on August 24, such as the military's retaking of the strategic Banggolo bridge and about 23 vital installations in the main battle area.
The military also recently declared that it was able to penetrate a "major defensive position" of the remaining members of the Maute group.
The President’s visit to the city comes as Malacañang on Monday said the rebellion in the city was already "in its last miles."
Armed Forces Spokesperson Brigadier General Restituto Padilla Jr. said the ongoing battle in the city appears to be entering the final stages.
“That is being mentioned because the remaining areas where the rebels are holed up are getting smaller and smaller by the day,” Padilla said in a news conference in Malacañang.
“And as we clear more buildings, we deny them the opportunity to retake additional facilities or installations where they can hide. So they are actually concentrated on only a few.”
According to Padilla, the battle zone in Marawi is now down to about one-fourth of a kilometer-grid square.
“Unfortunately for us, unfortunately for them, in that small area remains among the strongest buildings. ‘Yung mga malalaki’t makakapal na building. So ‘yun ang nagiging challenge natin ngayon,” he said.
The battle in Marawi has been raging since May 23, when Islamic State-inspired militants captured parts of the once-vibrant Islamic city. It has left nearly at least 845 dead, mostly terrorists.
The violent clashes prompted Duterte to place the entire Mindanao under martial law until the end of the year, saying the local terrorists were aiming to establish an Islamic State province in the Philippines.
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-Islamic State groups in the country has also raised alarm in Washington and the Philippines’ neighbors in the region, which fear that the terror group was seeking to establish a new front in Asia amid its successive losses in Iraq and Syria.