Major Generals Rolando Bautista and Danilo Pamonag lead soldiers across the Masiu Bridge in Marawi City yesterday morning in an image taken from government-run television station PTV 4’s Facebook post.

Generals cross Marawi bridges
Michael Punongbayan (The Philippine Star) - September 24, 2017 - 4:00pm

MANILA, Philippines — For the first time since the conflict started four months ago, ranking officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines crossed two bridges in Marawi City’s main battle area yesterday as troops moved closer to ending the fight with the Maute terrorist group.

Major Generals Rolando Bautista and Danilo Pamonag, commanders of the Joint Task Force Marawi and Joint Special Operations Task Force Trident, respectively, passed through the Bayabao and Masiu bridges.

The AFP said the bridges were recently recovered and controlled by government forces from the Maute group that placed the Islamic city under siege.

Both commanders were met by Brig. Gen. Melquiades Ordiales, commander of the Joint Task Group Tiger.

Bautista said the act of crossing the bridges showed the significant progress in the effort of the AFP and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to defeat the enemy, rescue the hostages and regain control of the city.

“The terrorists are now becoming desperate as our soldiers and police are closing in on their defensive positions. We are continuing our appeal to the terrorists to release their hostages and… surrender,” he said.

During his fifth visit to Marawi City last Sept. 21, President Duterte said “the end of the combat operation is just around the corner.”

The commander-in-chief and the AFP gave assurance that once the firefight is over, the daunting task of rehabilitation will proceed in full blast.

Malacañang hailed the government troops’ reclaiming of Masiu Bridge, calling it a “significant development” in the fight against the Islamic State-inspired terrorists.

Masiu Bridge, said to be the closest to Lake Lanao and a possible escape route of terrorists, was retaken by the military Friday noon, a feat that officials said further shrank the battle area in the strife-torn city.

Government forces have been trying to rid Marawi of terrorists since May but the militants’ stiff resistance and the presence of captives have prevented them from doing so.

“Government troops are now in the final push and despite the enemy’s continued resistance, our recent successes would hopefully lead to the eventual liberation of the entire city and pave the way back to normalcy,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a statement.

The Marawi crisis started last May 23 when members of the Maute group, which is said to have ties with the IS, occupied Marawi, torched several buildings and held dozens of civilians hostage.

The siege, which has been tied to politicians with links to illegal drugs, had prodded Duterte to impose martial law in the entire island of Mindanao.

Security forces have repeatedly missed self-imposed deadlines for the Marawi operations but have expressed confidence that the battle-ravaged city would be liberated soon.

Last week, Duterte said he would lift martial law in Mindanao once the military and the police declare Mindanao to be safe.

HOPE for Marawi

Inspired by the courage, selfless service and valor of soldiers who are fighting the Maute group, members of the Rotary Club of Makati’s JP Rizal chapter have raised funds to produce HOPE shirts for soldiers battling the terrorists in Marawi.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana himself received the initial 1,000 pieces of HOPE shirts with the message, “Katapangan mo para sa Bayan, Pag-asa para sa Kapayapaan” from Caroline Siy, president of the Rotary group.

The shirts were given in a simple ceremony held at the DND Social Hall in Camp Aguinaldo last week where Siy, in a speech, thanked the soldiers who are risking life and limb to neutralize the terrorists in Marawi and at the same time, bringing to safety the civilians who were held hostage for almost four months.

She said they hope to donate more HOPE shirts until all members of the government security forces fighting in Marawi have one.

Receiving the shirts on behalf of the soldiers, Lorenzana, who is also the chairperson of Task Force Bangon Marawi, thanked members of the group for their unique way of showing their appreciation and gratitude to the soldiers.

He said he is elated by the thought that soldiers are held in high esteem and are considered as the people’s “hope” to attain peace. – With Alexis Romero

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