MANILA - The Philippines is shifting its focus on rebuilding Marawi City after state troops defeated Islamic State-inspired terrorists and ceased combat operations in the southern city.
"The damage to Marawi’s infrastructure and private properties and the displacement of thousands of residents require the government’s unified and comprehensive effort; thus, we call on all our citizens to come together to move our country forward towards a peaceful, prosperous and secure future," Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced Monday the end of combat operations in Marawi 5 months after the southern city was attacked by Islamic State-linked militants.
Lorenzana said there are no more terrorists in the war-torn city as the last group of the Maute fighters were killed in a final firefight Sunday. He said 42 cadavers were recovered after the encounter.
"There are no more militants in Marawi," Lorenzana announced during a meeting of regional defense ministers in Clark, Pampanga.
Military spokesperson Major General Restituto Padilla said the Maute fighters were given a chance to surrender but they chose to fight up to the very end.
"We never ceased, we never stopped until the last fight yesterday. Then we seized the remaining buildings that they were holding [on] to. This is where we confiscated their .50 caliber machine gun, one of their formidable defense. With that it signaled the last remnants escaping which our troops pursued," Padilla said.
Abella said the Marawi crisis has so far been “the most serious threat of violent extremism and radicalism in the Philippines and in Southeast Asia.”
“The defeat of the Daesh-inspired Maute Group likewise underscores our singleness of purpose in the global war against terrorism,” Abella said.
“[We] commend government troops, including the fallen, for their courage, gallantry, and sacrifice. A snappy salute to all of you.”
The Marawi occupation, the Philippines' biggest security crisis in years, has triggered concerns that with its mountains, jungles and porous borders, the island of Mindanao could become a magnet for Islamic State fighters driven out of Iraq and Syria.
More than 1,000 people, mostly rebels, were killed in the battle and the heart of the city of 200,000 has been leveled by air strikes.
Government has begun laying down plans to rebuild Marawi, once a bustling urban and cultural capital and the country's only Islamic city.
The military has also commenced a gradual pullout of troops from the battle zone. With Reuters and Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News