MANILA - The military on Monday said the end to the months-long fighting in the Islamic city of Marawi is near as they contain the enemies' territory to only 10 hectares.
The pronouncement came after the security officials presented Fr. Chito Soganub, a Catholic priest rescued from the war-torn city after government troops took over the Bato mosque, a former stronghold of the Maute terrorists.
"They are now restricted to 10 hectares of the area. Hindi na ito magtatagal, nakita natin ito. Madali na ito," Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff General Eduardo Año told reporters.
"We just cannot really give you a specific timeline, but we’ll do it in accordance to our operational plan and we’ll make sure na maka-save pa tayo ng buhay, lalo ng hostages," he said.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said government forces are slowly constricting the area controlled by extremists even as soldiers try to rescue the hostages who may be hiding in structures near the Bato mosque.
"Alinsunod sa mga utos ni Presidente na we will do it quietly so that we will not endanger unnecessarily the lives of the hostages," he said.
"Malapit na. Sabi ng ating mga tropa sa ground, malapit na nating matapos. 10 hectares na lang yung ating cini-clear. Maliit na lang. 10 hectares is about 1/4 of this camp," he said while in Camp Aguinaldo.
Lorenzana said President Duterte is anxious to finish the fighting in Marawi "so that we can start the rehabilitation of the place."
About 10 foreign fighters, mostly Indonesians and Malaysians, remain in the battleground, said Año.
Año also claimed that the Islamic State-inspired extremists who have laid siege in Marawi City are left with only 2 of its original leaders: Omar Maute and Isnilon Hapilon.
"Based sa custodial debriefing ng three arrested at nag-surrender na Maute members at intelligence information, si Omar na lang ang buhay. Si Abdullah, Madi, at Otto ay patay na lahat," Año said.
It was Maute's faction which held Soganub, he said.
Duterte's top military man said government troops will make sure that Hapilon, the supposed emir of ISIS in Southeast Asia, will not leave Marawi alive.
"Based on our intel, meron siyang ibang options na kino-consider, but we will make sure addressed lahat yung options na yun. As much as possible, we don’t want Hapilon to leave the main battle area alive," he said.
Since fighting between state forces and the Maute group erupted in May, the military was able to kill 673 terrorists. But 47 civilians and 149 soldiers also died in the conflict, according to Lorenzana.