MARAWI: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday declared a southern city “liberated from terrorists’ influence” but the military said the five-month battle against militants loyal to the Islamic State group was not yet over, reports AFP.
Duterte led rain-soaked soldiers in celebrations in Marawi, a day after the military announced the death of the head of the Islamic State group in Southeast Asia, Isnilon Hapilon, in a gunbattle in the city.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I hereby declare Marawi liberated from the terrorists’ influence that marks the beginning of the rehabilitation,” Duterte said, speaking moments after explosions and gunfire were heard in the city. “I promise you this will never happen again,” he said as he gave troops a snappy salute.
Duterte stood on a gymnasium stage with a ruined roof near a tarpaulin bearing large photos of the dead militants. After he left, soldiers took selfies in front of a bombed-out building while others hoisted a Philippine flag atop a tank. Military chief of staff General Eduardo Ano later clarified that the fighting against 20 to 30 remaining militants continued, describing them as “stragglers” and the clashes as “mopping operations”.
“The small number of the remaining enemy can now be considered a law enforcement matter and does not constitute (a) serious threat to hinder (rehabilitation),” Ano said in a statement.