Military says Marawi siege over in 2-3 weeks; journalists decry “restrictions”

Students of Mindanao State University in Marawi City cross the scenic golf course inside the campus while the downtown in the background burns after a bombing run by military aircraft on Tuesday, 29 August 2017. MindaNews photo by H. MARCOS C. MORDENO

MARAWI CITY (MindaNews/29 August) — The already three-month long armed hostilities between government forces and the Islamic State-inspired Maute group will be over in two to three weeks, a military official said Monday.

Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, chief of the Armed Forces’ Western Mindanao Command, said he expects “normalcy” to return to the city in two to three weeks, citing the conflict area had been reduced to “400 to 600 square meters”.

Galvez said government troops killed five of 10 Maute militants who tried to reinforce their comrades via Lake Lanao on Monday.

He said only around 60 Maute gunmen were left and were stepping up use of improvised explosive devices.

He said clashes had been confined to areas near the lake.

But on Tuesday, military planes continued to drop bombs over the downtown area, the scene of heavy fighting since the early days of the siege which enters its 100th day on Wednesday.

Galvez admitted that government troops were finding it difficult to fight in an urban setting.

In a press conference in Cagayan de Oro City last June 11, he described Marawi as a “rat hole” for the militants.

On Monday, he declared that most of Marawi had been cleared of militants and that they were preparing for the return of the evacuees and reopening of public schools in the city proper.

Mindanao State University’s main campus, which sits on a hill overlooking the city, opened classes last August 22 amid heavy security. Army troopers continued to guard the school entrance.

Coverage restrictions

Several journalists have complained that the military, citing “operational security,” has imposed tighter restrictions such as banning media presence even in “cleared” areas that they wanted to cover and had previously covered.

They told Galvez they are not the military’s “PIO” (public information officers) thus they would not be content with receiving press releases as sources of their reports.

Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, Western Mindanao Command chief, on Monday (Aug. 28, 2017) declares the Marawi siege will end in two to three weeks time. MindaNews photo by H. MARCOS C. MORDENO

In a letter last week addressed to General Eduardo Ano, Armed Forces chief of staff, journalists covering Marawi said: “We believe that clarity in policy is beneficial to all parties. But more importantly, the world needs to know what is happening in Marawi through the media’s unbiased and unfiltered lens. This is what is sorely lacking here.”

“Press releases, press conferences and photo/video handouts from the military are no substitute to field coverage by the media.

“What is happening in Marawi is a curtailment of press freedom, a freedom guaranteed by the Constitution, even under a state of martial law. There are many existing and tested methods by which journalists can carry out their duty with the military still being able to preserve the secrecy of vital tactical movements.

“We are fully aware of the risks that surround us, and yet, like you, our duty to the people compels us to be in Marawi. These are precisely what we have been presenting on the ground, but these have all fallen on deaf ears. We hope we can sit down with you to discuss these urgent concerns,” the letter added.

The military, however, has refused to heed the journalists’ demand for greater leeway in covering the conflict. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno/MindaNews)