The war in Marawi City has waned, a military commander said on Sunday, allowing government troops to hear Mass for the first time since the battle with the IS-linked Maute group erupted more than four months ago.
No new casualties were reported on this day, although the military continued to operate in the capital of Lanao del Sur, carefully clearing the area of improvised explosive devices (IED) left behind by fleeing Maute members.
“Our operations continue but so far, there is no change to our casualty figures,” Col. Romeo Brawner, deputy commander of Joint Task Group Ranao, said in an interview on Sunday. Asked if the war would end Sunday, Sept. 30, as had been expected. “No, it will not end by [Sunday],” he replied.
Brawner said, however, resistance from the enemy was “waning,” compared with its strength in the early days of the fighting that first erupted on May 23 when Islamist extremists sought to establish an independent state.
That “act of rebellion” had prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law in Mindanao, which Congress extended until December.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana acknowledged the fierceness of the war could not simply end by virtue of a deadline, saying it might drag on further.
“Marawi City’s complete liberation from pro-ISIS Maute terrorists is not going to happen on September 30,” he said.
“The fierce war for Marawi that has raged for over four months may still drag on for 10 to 15 days,” Lorenzana said in an interview on radio dzBB on Saturday.
This is not the first time that the government has set deadlines to the ongoing clashes in Marawi City.
Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom) commander, said the war would be over in August while Lorenzana said it would end in September.
Based on the latest figures released by the military, the war has claimed the lives of 749 Maute members, 155 soldiers and 47 civilians. Recovered were 714 firearms.
About 300 government troops and officers attended the Mass held at the St. Mary’s Cathedral inside the war-torn city.
Among the ranking officials present were Maj. Gen. Danilo Pamonag, commander of Tak Force Trident; Maj. Gen. Rolando Bautista, commander of the Army’s 1st Infantry Division; and Brig. Gen. Melquiades Ordiales Jr., commander of Joint Task Group Tiger.
Brawner said the Mass was held since it was also the feast day of St. Therese, the patron saint of the military.
“So, the Mass was held since we are asking for blessings so that this war would be over soon and that our troops would be safe,” he said.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian visited the troops in Marawi on Sunday and pledged to help in releasing the budget for its rehabilitation
Gatchalian is chairman of the Senate committee on economic development in charge with the rehabilitation of Marawi City.
“He (Gatchalian) visited the IDPs (internally displaced persons) and came here to find out how he can help further with the rehabilitation,” Brawner said.
He said that aside from Marawi, there were also IDPs at Kagiaran, Lanao del Norte.
Galvez met Gatchalian, who joined soldiers in a boodlefight at the WestMinCom.