MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday said he will not lift martial law in Mindanao “until the last terrorist is taken out.”
This as state troops continued to pursue remaining Islamic State-linked terrorists in Marawi City even while Duterte already declared its liberation from Islamist extremists on Tuesday.
“I declared martial law. Everybody is asking when will it stop. It will not stop until the last terrorist is taken out,” Duterte said in a speech in Manila.
The President had on Tuesday declared the liberation of Marawi City from terrorists after state troops killed Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute, one of the two founders of the notorious Maute Group.
The military spokesperson, Major General Restituto Padilla Jr., meanwhile, said the terror leaders' deaths “does not signal the end of the hostilities" as up to 30 terrorists, including foreign fighters, remain holed up in the battle zone with several hostages.
Duterte immediately placed the entire Mindanao under martial law after terrorists laid siege on Marawi City last May 23. Government troops said then that the crisis was triggered by an attempt to capture Hapilon, said to be the anointed ISIS leader in Southeast Asia.
The President has said he would rely on the recommendation of the police and the military on the possible lifting of martial law. The military, for its part, said the martial law declaration has made its task of going after suspected terrorists easier.
Duterte's declaration was initially for a period of 60 days, but Congress approved its extension until the end of the year on the President's request as the conflict dragged on.
TERRORIST LEADERS KILLED
The killing of Hapilon and Maute marked a major development in the nearly 5-month siege that has left the predominantly Muslim city in ruins.
The military has also expressed confidence that another high-value terrorist, Malaysian professor Mahmud bin Ahmad, had been killed in an assault by the military Wednesday.
Following the deaths of the terror leaders, Duterte warned of a possible retaliatory attack from the terrorists.
“The military has been mouthing it and the police, several times, that we prepare for retaliation,” Duterte said.
“We know and I know that it is coming. When? we really do not know.”
ROBREDO TO ADMIN: KEEP PROMISE ON LIFTING MARTIAL LAW UPON END OF HOSTILITIES
Speaking to reporters in Bacolod City meanwhile, Vice President Leni Robredo asked the administration to keep its word that martial rule would be lifted upon the end of hostilities in Marawi City.
“Iyong pagdeklara ng martial law [sa Mindanao ay] premised on the peace and order situation. Kung maaalala natin, iyong [Department of] National Defense at military, nagsabi sa atin na as soon as iyong clear and present danger maalis na, ili-lift ito,” Robredo said.
“Wala tayo sa posisyon para makapagsabi [kung umabot na tayo doon], pero sana they make good with their word. Para iyong tao, iyong tiwala sa military, tiwala sa pamahalaan, ma-maintain. Ngayon iyon iyong pinanghahawakan natin, iyong word nila, na sana matupad,” she added.
Over 1,000 people, mostly terrorists, have died since clashes erupted in the city. At least 400,000 residents in Marawi City and nearby towns were also forced to evacuate.
The impending recapture of Marawi City by state forces is expected to mark another big blow to the Islamic State, which is seeking to establish a new front in Southeast Asia amid heavy losses in the Middle East.