End-September target for ending Marawi siege doable – defense chief

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An armored personnel carrier and soldiers advance toward Mapandi bridge. (photo by Froilan Gallardo, Reuters file)

MANILA – Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana remained upbeat on Wednesday that the military can finish the Marawi crisis by the end of the month, but said this would not automatically mean the lifting of the martial law in Mindanao.

Sabi naman ng commanders on the ground tatapusin na ‘yan bago matapos ang buwan [The commanders on the ground said they’ll finish it before the month ends], so we have three days to do the job, so I am holding them responsible in fulfilling their promise,” he said in an interview after briefing lawmakers on the Marawi situation.
“I am very confident that our soldiers can do their job,” he added.

However, Lorenzana said the end of the fighting in Marawi will not mean the automatic lifting of martial law, which is in effect in the Mindanao region until December 2017.

Tapusin muna natin ‘yung [Let’s end first the] conflict, then we assess the situation in the whole of Mindanao — if there are still pockets of resistance in Central Mindanao or the presence of Abu Sayyaf in Basilan and Jolo, but we will be making the recommendation maybe some time in October,” he said.

Depending on the situation and on what the people of Marawi want, Lorenzana said martial law could be lifted or even extended if the residents deem it necessary while rehabilitation is ongoing.

“Maybe, I will consider the recommendation of the people in Marawi, which is if they want martial law to continue while rehabilitating. Now, if they say they don’t want it anymore, then we will also consider,” he said.

The Defense chief, who is also the martial law administrator, added that “the final determination rests with the President.”

Lorenzana stressed, “That will be his decision.”

Fighting has raged on in the city of Marawi since May 23, when terrorists groups led by the Maute brothers laid siege to the once progressive Islamic city in Lanao del Sur and took residents as hostages.

Around 1,700 hostages have been rescued, including Father Teresito Suganob, the vicar general of Marawi. At least 10 hostages are still be held by the rebels, he said.

Military offensives have constricted the rebel stronghold to around 10 hectares, Lorenzana said, quoting ground commanders.

He said the P5-billion budget for the rehabilitation of the city remains intact, but has been appropriated for various expenses such as housing and relief assistance, except for P122 million, which he said will be used for additional expenses.