ILIGAN CITY, Philippines – As the fighting between government troops and the Maute terror group in Marawi City entered its fifth day, Armed Forces chief General Eduardo Año admitted that it may "take time" before the area could be considered as fully cleared.
“We are in total control of the whole area but it’s not cleared due to the urban terrain,” Año told reporters at the sidelines of the visit of President Rodrigo Duterte to the Philippine Army’s 2nd Mechanized Battalion headquarters in Barangay Maria Cristina late Friday afternoon.
“We have to clear one step at a time, house to house, block by block,” added Año, who placed the number of Maute Group members occupying some structures and houses in Marawi at less than 100.
He said soldiers use simple tactics in operating in a rural setting which cannot be applied to a city battle. “Here (Marawi) all it takes is for an armed person to position himself inside a building….It would take time before it could be cleared," Año said.
To fast-track the clearing operations of the military, Año said more soldiers have been deployed to Marawi, but did not say how many.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the situation in Marawi is expected to return to normal before the end of the 60-day imposition of martial law in Mindanao. (READ: Marawi crisis over in a week or less, says Lorenzana)
Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez Jr, Western Mindanao Command chief, said in a press conference on Saturday, May 27, that the government has control over most vital installations but there were "other areas that we have not gone to," or areas where the extremists are allegedly holding hostages.
Before Saturday noon, Malacañang announced that the government, through its Inter-Agency Task Force on Securing Energy Facilities, "has secured" the Lanao del Sur Electric Cooperative Compound (Lasureco).
Asked if the military had unwittingly walked into a trap set by Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon on Tuesday, when it conducted the surgical operation against him, Galvez said what happened was an unplanned and sudden encounter.
"The members of Daesh (ISIS) have long wanted to attack and burn Marawi,” Galvez said, adding that the Maute group had planned to raise the ISIS flag in front of city hall.
He added that the Maute group is supported by private armed groups and narcopoliticians, and that they already identified these supporters, but cannot release their names yet.
Meanwhile, civilians from Marawi continued to arrive in various evacuation sites in neighboring towns and in Iligan City.
In Saguiaran, Lanao del Sur, about 1,300 families were in the town gymnasium, according to the Provincial Crisis Management Committee of that province.
The municipality of Ditsaan Ramain, also in Lanao del Sur, has some 2,737 households, or around 13,000 individuals, seeking shelter in the public gymnasium.
In Iligan, there are about 2,000 evacuees in the temporary shelter in Barangay Buru-un, and more than a thousand in Barangay Maria Cristina. – Rappler.com