MANILA, Philippines – Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana made no excuses for the Marawi crisis that has now dragged on for more than a month. He admitted on Wednesday, July 6, that the security sector underestimated the strength of the homegrown terrorist groups linked with the Islamic State (ISIS).
Lorenzana, a retired Army general, said he himself initially estimated the clashes to last only 3 days when it was reported to him on May 23. He was in Moscow then with President Rodrigo Duterte.
"Na-understimate namin dahil before nung mga nakaraang panahon sandali lang yan – mga tatlong araw. In fact when I was in Moscow, noong marinig ko yan, tatlong araw tapos na ito. Pagdating natin dito at medyo malakas, sabi ko isang lingo then dalawang lingo," Lorenzana said on Thursday, July 6.
(We underestimated the situation because previous operations against them didn't last long – about 3 days. In fact, when I was in Moscow, when I heard about it, I said it will be over in 3 days. When we arrived here we realized they were stronger so I said one week or two weeks.)
Lorenzana said they also did not expect the terrorists to be ready with their logistics supply of firearms, bullets, and food.
"It's more than one month already. Malapit nang maging 2 months ito e (It's nearly 2 months now). Ibig sabihin nandoon sila, nakapag-imbak sila ng mga bala, baril pati pagkain siguro at mga explosives (It means they have always been there and were able to stockpile on bullets, guns, food, and explosives). That's why they are still fighting up to now, inflicting casualties on our soldiers," said Lorenzana.
Combined forces of the homegrown Maute Group and Abu Sayyaf Group attempted to seize Marawi City on May 23 in a bid to establish an extension of the ISIS caliphate in Mindanao.
The military has repeatedly announced the clashes would end in a matter of days or weeks. Yet, the crisis is now on its 45th day and air strikes continue in the city that has turned into a ghost town. (READ: Marawi battle zone: Urban warfare challenges PH military)
No more deadlines
Lorenzana admitted the missed deadlines were an embarrassment, which is why he has stopped issuing them.
"Ayaw ko nang magbigay ng deadline dahil 3 beses na akong nakuryente dahil sa kade-deadline ko. Nahihiya na ako (I don't want anymore to issue deadlines because I failed to meet 3. I'm already embarrassed.)," said Lorenzana.
The military initially thought they were dealing with only about 200 terrorists. Lorenzana said it's actually almost 700, based on reports from local officials.
The military claimed 351 terrorists have been killed, along with 39 civilians and 85 government forces as of July 5.
Various groups have attempted to initiate negotiations with the terrorist groups to end the war. But the government dismissed these efforts, saying they're too late. Some groups have not given up, however.
One of the generals on top of the operations in Marawi, Western Mindanao Command chief Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez, assured the public that the military already has the upperhand.
"We can see that the enemies have been weakened because we already have the upperhand," Galvez said.
The military earlier this week was able to retake Dansalan College, a compound that served as one of the strongholds of the enemy. But the military has yet to clear some 1,500 buildings inside the main battle area.
The military is also spearheading rehabilitation efforts for Marawi, tapping its engineering brigades to reconstruct infrastructure destroyed in the war.
"We're preparing the rehabilitation plan for this. There will be a survey soon to assess the damage there so we can have a ballpark figure how much we're going to need to restore Marawi," Lorenzana said.
"We ask the patience of the residents of Marawi City. I know you're all anxious to return," Lorenzana said. – Rappler.com