MARAWI CITY (MindaNews/17 October) — “Ladies and gentlemen, I hereby declare Marawi City liberated from terrorist influence that marks the beginning of rehabilitation,” President Rodrigo Duterte said on Tuesday, Day 148 of the Marawi Crisis, amid cheers from battle-hardened soldiers.
Duterte’s announcement from a stage of what used to be a covered court of the Jamiatul Phil Al-Islamia, the first Islamic University in the Philippines here, came a day after terror group leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute were killed by government forces.
Duterte led the troops in raising the Philippine flag with shouts of “Mabuhay! Mabuhay” as heavy rains fell.
The President gave medals, pistols and gifts to military and police officials who planned the operation against the terrorists.
He promoted Philippine Army chief Rolando Bautista from Major General to Lieutenant General.
He also met some of the child hostages rescued by the soldiers in the past two weeks.
Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Eduardo Ano said the death of Hapilon and Omar does not mean the end of the fighting in this city.
Explosions could still be heard in Bangolo Tuesday as troops continued to fight the remaining ISIS-inspired Maute fighters estimated at around 30 and still holding 20 hostages.
“We will not stop going after the terrorists until all the hostages are freed,” Ano said.
With the death of Hapilon and Omar, Ano said the leadership of the Maute group fell into the hands of Malaysian financier Mahmud Ahmad.
He said Mahmud is now leading the 30 remaining ISIS-Maute gunmen including six to eight foreign fighters in an area beside Lake Lanao.
He said Mahmud and his followers are suffering from low morale now that Hapilon and Omar are dead.
“Their attitude is now different, they are no longer as aggressive as before,” Ano said.
The top military official said the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police are gearing for possible reprisal from the Maute group in towns and cities where it is said to have carried out recruitment.
Sources told MindaNews that an ISIS leader who carries the nom de guerre “Mohammad” still poses a big problem.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Monday that the arrest orders for 500 persons suspected of supporting the ISIS-Maute issued last May is still in effect. (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)