Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has rescheduled a visit to jihadist-held Marawi City, following a failed attempt to land there last week. Speaking to reporters, he predicted the city will be “OK” within “ten to fifteen days” but warned that the Islamic State will remain a threat to the Asian island nation.
“I think in 10 to 15 days it’ll already be OK, but remember the new scourge is ISIS, it will continue to haunt us,” Duterte told reporters this week. Duterte’s prediction comes as the 60-day window of martial law on the island of Mindanao, where Marawi is located, is set to expire. Duterte officials suggest that they may extent the martial law status so long as the battle within Marawi rages.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, tasked with administering the martial law on the island, called the martial law “an extraordinary power … that must be resorted to only when warranted.”
“The Filipino people can rest assured, however, that if martial law is extended, they can continue to trust their defense and security establishments since every decision we make and operation we undertake is anchored on the rule of law and respect for human rights,” he added, without speculating how long the current status would continue. The Philippine Star noted that some have suggested a five-years martial law period, but Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla dismissed that window as “too long.”
Recent polling suggests that most Philippine nationals support Duterte’s martial law declaration. According to the pollster Social Weather Systems (SWS), 57 percent of respondents said “it is just right that he declared it in the entire Mindanao” in a poll conducted in late June. Most also disagreed with any further expansion of martial law to other islands.
Duterte has expressed a desire to visit Marawi, the nation’s only official Islamic city, before the fighting ends. The president attempted to fly to the city on July 7 wearing military gear, but failed to land, citing “bad weather.” He reportedly attempted to visit the city twice before this latest aborted attempt, and said Tuesday he would seek to travel there again soon. Duterte lives in Davao City, also on the island of Mindanao, where he served as mayor for 22 years.
“I was circling Marawi, I could not land. I could not go down nearer because we may get hit by a Barrett caliber 50 by chance,” Duterte said of his latest attempt to visit, insisting, “I don’t want to go there when it’s already peaceful.”
Marawi became the target of an Islamic State invasion in late May, when the Philippine military attempted to raid the alleged home of Isnilon Hapilon, the head of the ISIS affiliate Abu Sayyaf. In response, members of the Maute group, another Islamic State affiliate, attacked the soldiers and began a campaign to establish a caliphate in the Philippines, a 96 percent Christian country. Since then, the terrorists have taken Christian hostages and forced them to cook, clean, and serve as sex slaves for them, and have attempted to destroy all Christian churches and artifacts in the city. As the Philippine military refuses to conduct airstrikes over mosques, citing humanitarian concerns, the terrorists are using mosques as hideouts during lulls in battle.
On Monday, the Philippine military issued an update noting that ISIS snipers on rooftops had become a growing problem for their ground forces.
“We have identified key defensive positions. These are being subjected to surgical air strikes now. They are still occupying high-rise buildings. We need to take them down so we can facilitate a swift offensive of our troops,” a military spokesman told reporters, explaining that airstrikes are necessary despite the intense destruction of urban areas because “if we do not use air strikes, we will incur more casualties of our troops.”
The spokesman estimated about eighty Islamic State terrorists remained in the city, according to the Philippine Star.