Troops hear Mass as Marawi fighting wanes


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.

WORSHIP RESUMES Holy Mass is offered for the first time at the badly damaged St. Mary’s Cathedral inside the war-torn city of Marawi since fighting broke out on May 23. About 300 government troops battling Maute terrorists assisted in the Eucharist. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

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.

Troops hear Mass as Marawi fighting wanes

Lorenzana: Marawi siege will be over by Sunday

The Marawi City siege will be over by Sunday.

Thus, said Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana who announced yesterday that the Islamic State-inspired terrorists are just holed up within one block in the main battle area.
At the same time, Lorenzana cited another breakthrough in the ongoing military offensives against the terrorists – the capture of the White Mosque.
“I think this will be over by Sunday,” declared Lorenzana, despite the heavy resistance put up until yesterday by terrorists at the White Mosque.
Lorenzana, however, maintained that clearing operations will continue until the entire area is declared free from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) planted by the terrorists.
According to Lorenzana, there are still about 100 terrorists putting up resistance within the one-block battlefield.
The Defense chief also noted the surrender feelers being fanned by the terrorists through Lanao del Sur Rep. Mauyag Papandayan.
“Now, there was this offer to surrender by these Mautes. I was told by Congressman Papandayan…that they want to surrender,” Lorenzana said.
He assured the safety of those who will choose to surrender.
“Just go out with your hands up in the air…anytime they can surrender, they can get out and they will not be killed,” Lorenzana said.
“We will not kill people who are surrendering, your soldiers are not murderers…we will take them and the court will handle their case,” he added.
As of Wednesday, the military claimed to have killed more than 700 terrorists and recovered almost the same number of high-powered firearms.
On the other hand, a total of 151 government troops were killed in action while 47 civilians also perished.
The Marawi City siege erupted last May 23 when government troops attempted to arrest Isnilon Hapilon, the designated emir or leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIS in Southeast Asia.
Up to last week, the military said that Hapilon remained in the main battle area leading one of the two remaining groups of terrorists in fighting government troops. The other terrorist leader is Omar Maute of the Maute Group.
Several hostages are still being held by the terrorists.

Maute suffering heavy casualties; Marawi siege won’t last long–AFP

MARAWI CITY—Islamic State (IS) gunmen fleeing government forces had become easy targets for military snipers, which a ranking Army official said was the reason for an increase in the terrorists’ casualty figure.

Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner, deputy commander of Joint Task Force Ranao, said 711 IS gunmen had already been killed since homegrown IS affiliates Maute Group and Abu Sayyaf tried to set up an IS province here about four months ago.

Armed targets

The terrorists’ casualty figure was 680 just four days ago.

Brawner said in their haste to flee, the IS gunmen “cannot help but expose themselves to government sniper fire.”

“That’s the reason their fatality figure went up,” said the colonel.

The numbers, though, were not body counts but reports of military snipers hitting their targets. “They are visible from even afar,” said Brawner of the fleeing IS gunmen. “Our snipers saw them and they were armed, that’s why the only option remaining is for our snipers to neutralize them,” he said.

Brawner said as the end of the fighting drew near—“10-15 days more”—the area controlled by the terrorists had grown smaller.

“The siege will not last long,” said Brawner. “But our troops are trying their best to finish the siege earlier than that,” he said.

While there were still up to 60 hostages in the main battle zone, Brawner said the military was certain those killed by Army snipers were not civilians fleeing the fighting.

The terrorists, said Brawner, had split into smaller groups and divided the hostages.

The additional casualties among the terrorists left only up to 70 IS gunmen still alive, he said.

“Most of them are hiding inside foxholes so we cannot really see them all at the same time,” Brawner said.

Government casualty

The government, he said, had lost 152 soldiers and policemen, including those killed in so-called friendly fire.

He said the military was limited to using ground troops in its final assault on the terrorists because “we cannot bombard” areas where hostages were still being kept.

The assault, Brawner added, had been slowed down by booby traps set up by the terrorists. “The enemy has laid a lot of bombs,” he said.

Aside from laying siege to terrorist positions, soldiers had also been helping recover dead bodies in areas already cleared by the military, Brawner said. —JEOFFREY MAITEM AND RICHEL UMEL

Maute suffering heavy casualties; Marawi siege won’t last long–AFP

Military officers lead symbolic crossing of two Marawi bridges

Military officials managed to cross last Sunday two bridges in Marawi City that have been occupied and held by members of the Maute-Islamic State (IS) Group, highlighting the importance of the two bridges in the heart of the city.

Maj. Gen. Rolando Bautista, commander of the Joint Task Force Marawi, and Maj. Gen. Danilo Pamonag, commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force Trident, together crossed the Bayabao Bridge and Masui Bridge for the first time after the two bridges were recaptured from the terrorists.

The symbolic crossing, which underscored the importance of the two bridges, happened at around 10 a.m. last Sunday as the military pushed on with its assault in the hope of completely clearing Marawi City from the terrorists by the end of October.

Brig. Gen. Melquiades Ordiales, commander of the Joint Task Group Tiger, met the two military officials at the end of Masui Bridge.

Both the Bayabao and Masui Bridges have been held by the Maute-IS Group since the Marawi siege on May 23.

Bautista said the recapture of the two bridges were a significant progress in the efforts of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police to neutralize the terrorists, rescue the hostages and regain control of the whole city.

“The terrorists are becoming desperate as our soldiers and police are closing in on their defensive positions. We are continuing our appeal to the terrorists to release their hostages and for them to surrender to the government,” Bautista added.

The terrorists, the military said, were still holding around 40 hostages as they fight it out with soldiers within an area of 10 hectares.

Last Sunday, military officials reported that 151 soldiers and policemen have been killed since May, while at least 694 terrorists have also been neutralized.

During his fifth visit to Marawi on Thursday last week, President Duterte declared “the end of the combat operation is just around the corner”.

He said that once the firefight is over, the task of rehabilitation will proceed in full blast.

Military officers lead symbolic crossing of two Marawi bridges

Troops retake Marawi bridge, seal terror path

by Bill Casas

THE Palace on Sunday lauded government troops for retaking the Masiu Bridge, which they said was significant in ending the rebellion in Marawi City.

“Control of the Masiu Bridge is a significant development in our goal of ending the rebellion in Marawi,” said Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella in a statement.

Masiu Bridge is closest to Lake Lanao and is a possible escape route of the remaining terrorist rebels still holed up in the main battle area in Marawi City, Abella said.

“Government troops are now in the final push and despite the enemy’s continued resistance, our recent successes would hopefully lead to the eventual liberation of the entire city and pave the way back to normalcy,” Abella said.

Generals leading the fight against local terror groups in Marawi City crossed the remaining critical bridges in the battle area Sunday morning, Sept. 24, to mark a “significant progress” in the battle area.

“At 10 a.m. today, Sept. 24, 2017, Major Generals Rolando Bautista and Danilo Pamonag, commander of the Joint Task Force Marawi and commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force Trident, respectively, crossed for the first time since the start of the Marawi siege, the Bayabao Bridge and the Masiu Bridge,” said Task Group Ranao deputy commander Col. Romeo Brawner.

It was a symbolic march of victory over the hard-fought bridges, strongholds that the Marines were assigned to retake.

The Palace also said the release of the Lanao del Sur drug matrix underscored the ties between illegal drugs and criminal and terrorist activities.

On Friday, President Rodrigo Duterte showed journalists the “Lanao del Sur (LDS) Drug Trade Linked Diagram” with the names of and connections among drug personalities who are allegedly funding the Islamic State (ISIS)-inspired Maute terrorists in Marawi City.

“Local politicians in Mindanao adversely affected by the government’s campaign against illegal drugs have financed the Daesh-inspired Maute Group, whose attempt to undermine our sovereignty resulted in the rebellion in Marawi,”Abella said in a statement.

Abella said the information gave more reason for the government forces to destroy the drug apparatus to protect Filipinos and secure communities.

Duterte has released a “matrix” of drug lords and politicians who allegedly funded the deadly siege in Marawi City, which entered its fourth month on Saturday.

The President said the matrix was a result of intelligence work in the last three months, when government troops were able to gain access to Marawi.

“That’s for public consumption already. The details on how they operated the drug campaign in Marawi and the entire of Mindanao…I told them that we should make it public already, it’s no use keeping it a secret, for what? We cannot consume it. That would explain really the many killings here,” Duterte said.

“There they discovered that the Maute [group] was really preparing for a long haul. Until now, they have never ran out of ordnance, explosives, ammunitions, and all. I really do not know the extent now of the contamination,” he added.

Buses, military trucks deployed for today’s transport strike

By Evan Orias

THE Metropolitan Manila Development Authority yesterday urged commuters to take alternative modes of transport like the Pasig River Ferry System or the agency’s vehicles as a transport group holds a strike today.

The MMDA said it would provide stranded commuters with buses and military trucks at seven areas — Monumento (in front of the Manila Central University), SM Marikina, Luneta Parade Ground, HK Town Plaza in Pasay City, UP Technohub in Quezon City, MMDA parking lot in Makati City, and Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.

The MMDA said commuters can take the ferry boats at stations in Metro Manila — Pinagbuhatan station in Pasig; San Joaquin in Mandaluyong; Maybunga, Hulo, Valenzuela, and Guadalupe in Makati; and Lambingan, Sta. Ana, PUP, Lawton, Escolta, and Plaza Mexico in Manila.

The ferries operate from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays. Fare ranges from P20 to P95.

The Stop and Go Coalition said it is holding a strike in protest of government’s plan to phase out decrepit public utility vehicles (PUV).

The group also held transport strikes last July 17 and February 6, and February 27and inconvenienced passengers.

Stop and Go Coalition leader Jun Magno said the group is also against the proposed cost of e-jeepneys which is P1.6 million per unit. The Department of Transportation wants old jeepneys to be replaced with Euro 4 or electric jeeps to reduce pollution in Metro Manila.

The government plans to scrap public utility vehicles older than 15 years, including those with low-emission and vehicles with new engines and chassis but do not comply with the environmental standards by 2020.

The DOTr has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Development Bank of the Philippines for the provision of P1.5 billion for the initial implementation of the agency’s Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program.

George San Mateo, president of Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (PISTON), said his group will not participate in the strike because it was not included in the planning of the transport strike today.

San Mateo was charged last Friday by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) for violating the public service law.

The complaint stemmed from the transport strike against the modernization program held on last February 27, of which San Mateo was one of the leaders.

The complaint-affidavit filed before the Quezon City Prosecutor’s Office said San Mateo violated the Public Service Act when he pushed through with the strike despite a prohibition stated in an LTFRB memorandum circular saying conducting a strike as a means of protest against a government action is prohibited.

The LTFRB said San Mateo and his group, by holding the transport strike, “capitalized on the public necessity, which they were supposed to serve.”

Reacting to the complaint, San Mateo yesterday accused the LTFRB of harassment, saying the complaint is intended to sow fear among jeepney drivers and operators.

He said President Duterte had given them the go-signal to stage a strike during a dialogue in Malacañang last July 18.

Duterte flies to Marawi anew

By Christina Mendez

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte went straight to Marawi City last night, leaving Manila amid protests against his administration over extrajudicial killings and police abuses in relation to his drug war.

Duterte spoke to troops stationed in Marawi where he expressed full support for the military’s efforts to liberate the city from the Islamic State-inspired Maute terror group.

Unfazed with the massive protests in Rizal Park, Manila yesterday, Duterte also reiterated that there will be no letup in the campaign against drugs despite the “unnecessary deaths” without directly referring to the killings of teenagers Kian delos Santos, Carlo Angelo Arnaiz and Reynaldo de Guzman.

“The war on drugs will continue. There will be no letup. Just because there were one, two, three, four, five unnecessary deaths,” he said in his speech aired over radio dzBB last night.

In his fifth visit to Marawi, Duterte said the criminal should yield to the authorities to avoid any encounter.

“The duty of the criminal is to surrender. If not, the next law that mandates to the soldier or the police. Surrender, so that you are put under the law,” Duterte said.

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Duterte added that the law enforcers must assert their mandate to put the suspects under their authority, especially during resistance.

“(The) law says you must overcome the resistance, you can drag him – that process alone would mean that there would be some injury,” the President said.

The other day, Duterte called on the public to help him in rebuilding Marawi City from the rubble.

He noted that the government needs at least P50 billion just for the rehabilitation of the city that was destroyed by almost four months of fighting between security forces and the Maute group along with supporters of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon.

Duterte said the conflict in Marawi is almost over but he sees no need to celebrate.

Navy, Air Force hold joint drills in Western Mindanao

By Roel Pareño

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines — The Navy and Air Force have been staging joint exercises of anti-terrorism and territorial defense operations in response to continued fighting in Marawi City.
R.Adm. Rene Medina, Naval Forces Western Mindanao commander, said his unit partnered with the Tactical Operations Wing of the Air Force 3rd Air Division in the ongoing exercise that started Monday.
Medina said the exercise — dubbed Interoperability Exercise ‘Ayudahan’ 2017 — is the first between the two units and is meant to enhance their ability to meet security threats in the southern Philippines.
“The interoperability exercise aims to develop interoperability and operational capabilities of NFWM-TOC units in Western Mindanao Area of Operations and enhance the overall coordination and responsiveness in the conduct of joint maritime operations in support to Internal Security Operations and Territorial Defense Operations,” Medina said.
Navy units participating in the exercise are Naval Task Force 61, Naval Special Operations Unit 6, Naval Air Unit-Western Mindanao, Naval Intelligence and Security Group-Western Mindanao and the Maritime Situational Awareness Center-Western Mindanao.
The Air Force is represented by the 15th Strike Wing, 205th Tactical Helicopter Wing, 304th Air Intelligence and Security Squadron, 722nd Special Operations Squadron and the 505th Search and Rescue Group.
“The continuous collaboration of the two forces is evidence of a strong commitment to serve and perform their respective duties for the pursuit of lasting peace, order and development in Western Mindanao,” Medina added.

Palace: No nationwide martial law

By Christina Mendez

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang assured the people yesterday that President Duterte will not expand martial law nationwide as  protesters vowed to prevent the return of Ferdinand Marcos’ brand of military rule.

Responding to the rallyists’ calls for an end to tyranny, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said Duterte would not expand martial law to Luzon and the Visayas despite mounting protests against extrajudicial killings, abuses and corruption.

Duterte imposed martial law in the whole of Mindanao after members of the Maute terror group attacked Marawi City on May 23.

The imposition of martial law in Mindanao as well as the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus were eventually extended by Congress until the end of this year.

In a press briefing in Marawi, Duterte said he is ready to lift martial law in Mindanao once the government gets total control of the city.

Duterte visited the 103rd Infantry Brigade of the Army at Camp Ranao where he also told the military that they will just quietly pack up their equipment and belongings once the battle is over.

He reiterated that there will be no celebration of victory, noting the many lives lost and the havoc caused by the long-drawn battle with Islamic terrorists.

Amid yesterday’s massive protests, Abella noted that Duterte has emphasized many times that the administration respects every Filipino’s right to peaceably assemble and seek redress against the government.

“Again and again, inulit niya hindi iyan ang patutunguan natin,” he said, shooting down any possibility of martial law declaration by the Chief Executive.

Abella reiterated that Duterte has time and again stressed that he will allow everybody to join protest rallies, and Malacañang had even declared yesterday as a National Day of Protest.

“He is allowing the protest, as long as the (rallyists) will not resort to violence and the destruction of property, in which case the response will be firm. But if you refer to martial law, he won’t (declare it),” Abella said.

“In fact, even at the start, the President has tried to reach out to just about everybody, left to right. And again he started out with having a rainbow Cabinet … including left, including right, top bottom,” he added.

Abella then reminded that the Chief Executive has been sincere in his intent to ensure that nobody will be left out in his administration.

“So, sa simula’t sapul po ang (even from the start) President has been very inclusive and one thing, in his line – a comfortable life for all. In other words, damang dama po ng Presidente ang hinaing ng tao and again and again, especially he is against corruption, crime and abuses,” he said.

Abella said the national day of protest is a healthy exercise in democracy.

“This is also an opportune time for those in the government to hear the voice of the governed as part of our efforts to uphold the highest standards of good governance,” the Palace spokesman said in a statement.

Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said the declaration of national day of protest dispelled notions that Duterte is a tyrant.

“The President is showing the world that he is not tyrannical as the opposition claimed,” Andanar told state-run Radyo Pilipinas in an interview.

Thousands of demonstrators from multisectoral groups converged in Rizal Park, Manila to protest the extrajudicial killings and the possible declaration of martial law nationwide.

Senior Supt. Bartolome Bustamante, deputy chief of the Police Community Relations Group of the Philippine National Police, said 1,000 policemen were on standby and ready for deployment to secure the protest rally in Rizal Park.

Meanwhile, presidential daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio lamented how the organizers of the protest rally reportedly used children.

The mayor reacted to a report she received on Facebook regarding the supposed participation of about 60 indigenous children in the protest rally in Davao City yesterday.

The mayor pointed out that the protesters do not even have a budget for medicines if the children get sick.

“Magkasakit mga bata adto dayon mo sa Lingap ug DSWD (When the children get sick you immediately run to the Lingap Para sa Mahirap local social welfare program and the Department of Social Welfare and Development), she said.

Meanwhile, Carpio has ordered the cancellation of classes in all private schools in Davao City after President Duterte declared Sept. 21 as National Day of Protest.

“This is because of the security and safety concerns brought by the expected protest actions tomorrow and the inconvenience and delays it may cause to the travel of the students and the general public,” the mayor said.

Año assures all dependents of soldiers KIA in Marawi to get scholarships

By Francis Wakefield

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff General Eduardo M. Año assured that all dependents of soldiers killed in action (KIA) in the ongoing war against Daesh-inspired Maute group terrorists would be provided with scholarships by the government.

Año made the remark as the AFP on Friday honored its partners and stakeholders for their immeasurable support to the education of military dependents and their notable achievements during the stakeholders recognition ceremony held at the Tejeros Hall of the AFP Commissioned Officers’ Club in Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

Año told reporters during an interview that aside from providing scholarship to the children of the soldiers slain in the ongoing conflict in Marawi, the widows will also be given an opportunity to work in a department of their choice.

“Iyun naman hindi magwo-work meron ding livelihood programs para sa kanila. May mga donor tayo na magsu-support doon sa program..Up to as much to P2 million ang support diyan (We also have livelihood programs for those who won’t work. We have donors who are supporting the program.  The program is supported by up to as much as P2 million),” Año said.

Among the attendees during the stakeholders recognition ceremony were the officials and staff of 18 partner institutions and the 16 grantees of the AFP Educational Benefit System (AFPEBS).

The AFP also proudly highlighted the feat of their magna cum laude graduate, five cum laude graduates, and 15 Student Achievement Recognition System (STARS) awardees.

“Stakeholders recognition ceremony is held annually to recognize the role of individuals and institutions that continuously support the education of our soldiers’ dependents through their partnership with the AFP Educational Benefit System (AFPEBS),” said Marine Col. Edgard Arevalo, AFP Public Affairs chief.

“The occasion also aims to further develop the relationship between the AFP and its partners, and to recognize their key contributions to the academic success of the military dependents. These achievements bring about pride and fulfillment for the AFP, its partners and stakeholders as they contribute to the welfare improvement of our soldiers’ families,” he added.

Arevalo said all these efforts are in line with the AFPEBSO’s commitment of  “Leaving No Soldiers’ Orphan Behind.”

Aside from Año who served as keynote speaker, also in attendance were AFP vice chief of staff Lt. Gen. Salvador Melchor Mison Jr., the acting deputy chief of staff of the AFP Maj. Gen. Elvin Velasco and Brig. Gen. Arnel Duco, AFP J1.