MARAWI CITY, Philippines – The military joint task force in charge of operations in this Islamic city under siege vowed Sunday it will not stop until it has completely flushed out local extremists seeking full recognition from the Islamic State.
“Whether may martial law o wala, magpapatuloy kami. Gusto natin [With or without martial law we will continue our task to] flush out and destroy the enemy and protect the civilians,” said Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera, spokesman of Joint Task Force Marawi. He made the remarks a day after Congress, in joint session, voted 261-18 to grant President Duterte’s request to extend martial law in Mindanao until Dec. 31, 2017.
The original 60-day period was mandated by Proclamation 216, which Duterte signed a few hours after the Maute Group-led local terrorists laid siege to Marawi, eventually displacing over 200,000 people.
According to Herrera, the military offensive against the extremists continues, adding that their territory is fast shrinking.
“Operations nagpapatuloy, especially sa combat clearing ops. Tapusin ang laban eventually to liberate Marawi. Naka-focus tayo sa pag-take down sa defensive position ng kalaban inside the main battle area. Nakatutok din tayo sa dayalogo sa stake holders para ipaliwanag and military campaign. At the same time solicit support [Operations, especially combat clearing operations, continue. We will finish the fight to liberate Marawi. We are focused on taking down the enemy’s defensive position in the main battle area. We also give priority to holding dialogs with stakeholders to explain the military campaign. And solicit support],” said Herrera.
The people of Mindanao and Marawi, specifically, should not fear martial law, which he said is focused solely on rooting out extremism. “It’s not about the martial law. It’s about terrorism. [We need to understand the impact of terrorism on the] city. Martial law is to protect the city.”
Herrera gave assurances that soldiers are sworn to abide by the law at all times. “Ang sa akin lang, gusto ko sabihin sa mamamayan, huwag sila matakot dahil ang sundalo niyo ay propesyunal. Lahat anchored sa rule of law. Ire-respeto ang rights ng ating mga kababayan. Tuloy tuloy po ang pakikipag ugnayan [We wish to tell our people not to fear because your soldiers are professionals. Everything is anchored on rule of law. Rights of citizens will be respected and we continue to engage them].”
Even critics of martial law, or those who say the extension proves that the soldiers are not up to the task, are being respected by JTF Marawi, according to Herrera.
“I respect their opinion. [We are focused on] terrorism. Especially in Marawi,” he added.
He explained that the presence of trapped civilian hostages is what’s complicating the fight. “Hindi po ito madali. Very complex. We respect their opinions. We have the skills. It a matter of time.”