Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said efforts to rid Marawi of the terrorist group are being fast-tracked, including the clearing of occupied areas. AP Photo/Bullit Marquez, file

AFP on ending Maute threat: Almost there
(The Philippine Star) - May 29, 2017 - 4:00pm

MANILA, Philippines - In its mission of neutralizing the Maute threat in Marawi City, the military says it is “almost there.”

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said efforts to rid Marawi of the terrorist group are being fast-tracked, including the clearing of occupied areas.

Maj. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. of the Western Mindanao Command said the government is in control of Barangays Matampay, Basak Malulut, Barrio Green, Bangon and Saduc as well as the periphery of the Mindanao State University and the Matampay area.

He confirmed that “certain areas of the city” in Marawi remain under the group’s control.

“Although we do not have a timeline, we’re seeking to end this as soon as possible. Our ground commanders have assured that the end is almost there,” Padilla said in a press conference in Malacañang.

“What we are trying to do right now is to expedite what needs to be done in order to restore law and order and normalcy in the whole of Mindanao, particularly Marawi,” he added.

The Maute group, which claims ties to the terrorist organization Islamic State (IS), raided Marawi City last Tuesday, burning several buildings including a cathedral and holding several civilians hostage.

Clashes ensued after security forces raided a house believed to be the hiding place of Isnilon Hapilon, an Abu Sayyaf leader and alleged head of IS in the Philippines.

The violent incidents prompted President Duterte to place the entire island of Mindanao under martial law and to cut short his four-day official visit to Russia. He has vowed to be harsh in dealing with the Maute terrorists, whom he claimed tried to take over Mindanao to set up a caliphate.

Colonel Edgard Arevalo, AFP Public Affairs Office (PAO) chief, bared that as of yesterday, the Maute-IS group has suffered 61 dead and an undetermined number of wounded members.

Official data also showed 15 soldiers and three policemen were killed in the clashes. The killing of at least 19 civilians, including several women and a child, was also attributed to the Maute terrorists.

“The AFP pays tribute to the 15 soldiers killed-in-action and 61 wounded-in-action in its campaign to clear Marawi of terrorists, rescue trapped non-combatants, recover civilian casualties, and restore law and order in the city,” Arevalo said.

Padilla claimed that government forces have full control of Marawi “except for certain areas of the city.”

“It is not true that half of the city is controlled by the rebels,” he added, pointing out that the government “controls who comes in and who comes out, who moves around and who doesn’t.”

But while the National Ulama Conference of the Philippines, a group of Muslim clerics, has asked Duterte to immediately stop the airstrikes in Marawi City and resort to land attack instead, Padilla insisted that clearing operations necessarily require the conduct of air raids.

“There was a need to do surgical airstrikes because of strategically in-place enemy presence. If we do not employ combat power as we needed it and saw fit, we would prolong the clearing process and endanger more lives both civilian and military,” Padilla said.

He could not say how many terrorists are still in the city, noting that the situation in the area is very fluid.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), while condemning the violence created by the terrorist Maute group, also cautioned the government against the airstrikes, which could destroy government structures and civilian properties.

It urged the government to seek a peaceful resolution following the mechanisms set by the agreements on the Bangsamoro people.

Earlier, Orlando Cardinal Quevedo, Roman Catholic archbishop of Cotabato, issued a statement condemning the “terroristic acts that have caused the loss of many innocent lives… It is an ideology that is totally against the tenets of any religion of peace.”

“Terrorism distorts and falsifies the true meaning of any religion. It destroys harmonious relationships among peoples of different faiths. It creates a world of suspicion and prejudice, of hatred and hostility,” Quevedo also said. –  Alexis Romero, Michael Punongbayan, Evelyn Macairan, Mayen Jaymalin, Gerry Lee Gorit, Ric Sapnu, John Felix Unson

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