Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Monday that they would assess the situation in Mindanao and make a recommendation on whether or not to lift military rule in the region. AP/Bullit Marquez, File

No decision yet on lifting of martial law in Mindanao, says Lorenzana
Audrey Morallo (philstar.com) - October 16, 2017 - 2:27pm

MANILA, Philippines — The government will not necessarily lift martial law in Mindanao despite the death of the two leaders of Islamist militants who attacked Marawi City almost five months ago, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on Monday.

According to Lorenzana, the country's defense and security agencies have yet to assess the situation in Mindanao, an island of 22 million in southern Philippines traditionally a hotbed of extremism, violence and rebellion.

Once they finish their assessment, Lorenzana said, they would make the appropriate recommendation to President Rodrigo Duterte who placed the entire island of Mindanao under military rule after hundreds of militants attacked Marawi City on May 23.

"We are going to assess the entire situation in Mindanao, and we will make our recommendation to the president in due time," the defense secretary said.

READ: DND: Hapilon, Maute deaths imply end of Marawi conflict

Lorenzana said they are continuing with their security operations and patrols especially in other cities in Mindanao as they are expecting retaliatory attacks following the announcement of the deaths of Isnilon Hapilon, the appointed leader of the so-called Islamic State in Southeast Asia, and Omar Maute, one of the founding leaders of the Maute group.

The defense secretary said all cities in Mindanao are vulnerable and even a small contingent of fighters is enough to stir trouble in the region.

He added that local government officials are constantly coordinating with the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces to prevent another disastrous and deadly breakout of violence.

"I think all major cities in Mindanao are vulnerable to that because they do not need a big force to create trouble. Just a couple of them going there and occupying a building and then holding up that will make a trouble already," he said.

"Everybody here is vulnerable. Every place is vulnerable. What we need to do is be vigilant to ensure that nothing of this sort will happen again," he added.

READ:  How Maute, Hapilon died in one of last Marawi gunfights

Lorenzana also revealed that the US would help the Philippines establish the identity of the bodies that were believed to be those of Hapilon and Maute through DNA testing.

He also clarified that operations against communist rebels were continuing despite their drive to liberate Marawi and decimate the Abu Sayyaf, another terror group operating on the islands of Sulu and Basilan.

Units that were plucked from Eastern Mindanao, Bacolod, Samar and other areas where New People's Army rebels were active would now be able to return to ratchet up the pressure on these Maoist fighters, he said.

"We will just increase our intensity in running after them because Marawi will be over," he said.

The Department of Budget and Management has already allocated P5 billion to support the residents displaced by the fighting and the initial physical recovery of Marawi, a town of 200,000 most of whom fled the violence, according to Lorenzana.

He added that for next year another P10 billion would be needed to start the physical rehabilitation of the city.

Security agencies are also targeting communities and schools in a bid to prevent the spread of violent extremism among young Muslims, he said.

Lorenzana said that they had already secured the support of local Muslim leaders, scholars and teachers to shield their younger generations from the foreign ideology that fueled the attack on the Islamic town.

"We recognize that this foreign, destructive ideology was brought in. For the longest time, we have not been paying attention to it. Now, we will be addressing this," the defense chief said.

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