MANILA – The military has officially declared finis to combat operations in the Islamic City of Marawi, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told his counterparts in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on Monday, as government buckled down to the task of rehabilitating the Islamic city under siege from terrorists since May 23.
Clearing and so-called mopping up operations, however, continue, implying there is no complete military stand down just yet.
Lorenzana made the declaration at the opening of the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting at Clark Field, one of the events preceding the highlights of the Philippines’ hosting of ASEAN’s 50th anniversary this year, with the Leaders’ summit scheduled next month.
But the liberation of Marawi comes with a heavy price.
Some 165 soldiers died in the devastating battle.
Those who were lucky enough to go back home to their families could only pay tributes to their fallen comrades.
An estimated 919 terrorists were killed in the 154 days of combat.
That includes the leaders – isnilon hapilon and omar maute, as well as the maute group’s financier – the Malaysian professor Mahmud Ahmad.
The official tally does not include the 42 militants whose remains have yet to be retrieved from the battle area.
If there’s one thing the military learned from the hard-fought battle, it’s to be better armed for urban warfare.
‘Most serious threat
Abella added: “We have successfully concluded what has been, so far, the most serious threat of violent extremism and radicalism in the Philippines and in Southeast Asia. The defeat of the Daesh-inspired Maute Group likewise underscores our singleness of purpose in the global war against terrorism.”
With Marawi liberated from the terrorists, Abella said, “the focus now shifts to the enormous and challenging task of rebuilding, reconstruction and rehabilitation of the Islamic City. The damage to Marawi’s infrastructure and private properties and the displacement of thousands of residents require the government’s unified and comprehensive effort; thus, we call on all our citizens to come together to move our country forward towards a peaceful, prosperous and secure future.”
Abella conveyed the government’s commendation for the “troops, including the fallen, for their courage, gallantry, and sacrifice. A snappy salute to all of you.”
How about martial law?
After Abu Sayyaf group leader Isnilon Hapilon and Maute group leader Omar Maute were killed in a military operation last week, and even as the security forces drew praise for their sacrifice in Marawi, the question of whether or not martial law should continue as scheduled until yearend, or whether it should even be extended given the lingering security threats, remained up for debate.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said Monday that, with the termination of military operations in Marawi, “it is now time to also terminate the state of Martial rule in Mindanao.”
Martial rule should not be used as an excuse to further trample the rights of the people of the island, especially the innocent Lumad and peasants who are displaced in other parts of Mindanao, Zarate said.
‘No longer necessary’
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Monday said an extension of martial law in Mindanao is no longer necessary, saying that the threat that became the basis for its declaration has already been addressed by the military.
In a radio interview, CHR spokesperson Atty. Jackie De Guia also said the commission’s position was for the lifting of martial law following the deaths of terrorist leaders behind the Marawi crisis.
“Ang posisyon ng CHR ay sana po sa lalong madaling panahon ay ma-lift na rin po ang martial law sa Mindanao dahil naniniwala po tayo na may sapat na lakas at kakayahan ang ating kasundaluhan na manatili ang peace and order lalo po’t nagsugpo ‘yung banta ng terorismo sa Marawi,” she said.
[The CHR’s position is for martial law in Mindanao to be lifted as soon as possible because we believe that our soldiers have the enough strength and capability to maintain the peace and order, especially now that they have addressed the threat of terrorism in Marawi.]
“Naniniwala po tayo na wala na ‘yung initial threat na naging basehan sa pagdeklara ng martial law sa Mindanao [We believe that there is no longer the initial threat that has become the basis for declaring martial law in Mindanao],” she added.
60 days extended
President Rodrigo Duterte had declared a 60-day martial law covering the entire island of Mindanao last May, following the clashes between the government forces and the Islamic State-inspired Maute groups in Marawi City. The 60 days was further extended by Congress when the two months lapsed with the terrorist groups still entrenched in the city, and dozens of hostages and their weapons and ammunition still well stocked.
Despite declaring the liberation of the Islamic City after the five-month standoff, Duterte said in a recent speech that martial law in Mindanao would stay “until the last terrorist is taken out.”
He also warned of retaliatory attacks by the Maute group against government forces in the region.
The military also earlier expressed their support for martial law to still be enforced in order to go after remaining terrorists in other parts of Mindanao.
CHR receives HR violations complaints
De Guia also said the CHR has been looking into the complaints of human rights violations lodged by different groups, particularly the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and human rights group Karapatan.
“May mga ilan po kaming natanggap na mga complaints or cases… At hanggang sa ngayon ay patuloy po ‘yung investigation na ginagawa [We have received some complaints or cases… And up until now, the investigation is ongoing],” she said.
The CHR spokesperson also said they were coordinating with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) regarding the complaints.
“We anticipate that with the lifting of some restrictions in Marawi because our regional office together with the RHRC (Regional Human Rights Commission) can now go there and verify those allegations,” she said.
“Ini-investigate pa rin po natin ‘yan. Wala pa pong konklusyon sa ngayon [We are still investigating that. We still have no conclusion now],” she added.
IBP-Lanao Del Norte in June raised concerns over alleged illegal search and seizure operations by government forces in Marawi City.
Meanwhile, the Karapatan human rights NGO has also reported alleged killings and illegal arrests by government troops in other parts of Mindanao.
De Guia also said the CHR has also been tending to the human rights concerns of internally displaced Marawi residents.
“Nakipag-tulungan po ang RHRC at saka regional offices. Tinignan po namin ‘yung kondisyon sa mga evacuation centers. Tinignan po natin kung paano nakakarating ‘yung mga social services,” she said.
[The RHRC and the regional offices have coordinated. We looked into the condition in evacuation centers. We looked into how to bring social services.]
According to the DSWD, more than 300,000 persons in Lanao del Sur and in nearby provinces have been displaced by the conflict in Marawi City. With reports from Maricel Halili, News5 | Camille Aguinaldo, InterAksyon