MANILA — The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Friday welcomed the move of some relatives of terrorists Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute to lay down their arms and surrender to the government.
“We are happy to note that there is some sense entering into the minds of all these relatives who bear arms and who have been part of the network. And as the days go by, let this be (the) good message to all these armed individuals and armed elements,” AFP spokesperson, Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr., said during the regular Mindanao Hour press briefing in Malacañang.
“Maging magandang mensahe po sana itong mga nangyayari sa Marawi na talagang determinado ang Armed Forces at ang ating pamahalaan na i-address lahat ng mga armadong grupo upang talagang manatiling safe ang ating mga kanayunan at ang ating mga siyudad,” he added.
The AFP spokesperson also asked the public’s cooperation to work hand-in-hand with the government in addressing the issue of loose firearms.
“Hangga’t hindi po naibabalik at naisu-surrender lahat ng mga loose firearms, ‘yung mga armas na hindi dapat nasa kamay ng mga tao na wala namang lisensya at hindi naman dapat naghahawak ng armas, dapat makuha po natin lahat ‘yan nang sa ganun, masabi nating ganap na maayos ang ating mga komunidad,” he said.
The AFP official meanwhile confirmed the death of Malaysian terrorist Dr. Mahmud Ahmad, who helped finance the Marawi siege, and said that the AFP is in the process of recovering the terrorist’s body.
He said Mahmud’s death was verified through a first-person account of a hostage who knew Mahmud and saw the events unfolding.
“He died during the assault of our troops the other day — or the other night, where 12 other rebels died. And we are (in) the process of recovering the body of Dr. Mahmud,” Padilla said.
He also announced the successful rescue of 10 more hostages.
“With the number of hostages that have been rescued in the last 24 hours, we look forward to getting the rest of the hostages and [to] addressing the armed threat that still exists,” Padilla assured.
“We are giving it our best and we’re doing all that we can so that we can end these hostilities in this part of Marawi,” he added.
Following President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s declaration of the liberation of Marawi, Padilla said the AFP would now be shifting its forces to other areas for their required training and scheduled battalion activities.
“They will also be going back to Luzon for a much-needed break and for their long-delayed training in Fort Magsaysay and in other camps of the Philippine Army to enhance their skills and prepare them for their next mission,” Padilla said.
He clarified, however, that there are still units deployed in the war-torn city to continuously ensure the security of the people during the rehabilitation and reconstruction phase.
“Most of this will be dependent also in the key sector or areas in Marawi that they are holding. If these are relatively safe, then we will free up our units to depart,” Padilla said.
Padilla then sought the patience and understanding of the Marawi residents who are planning to return to their homes.
He said evacuees are still not allowed to enter the inner parts of the city until the AFP’s clearing operations are completed.
The AFP official stressed the need to clear all areas of all possible hazards like improvised explosive devices (IEDs), booby traps, and other unexploded ordnances, before allowing residents to return.
“Kinakailangan hanapin po natin lahat ng naiwang mga bomba na hindi pumutok, mga patibong na iniwan na hindi po namin nakita, at mga bagay na maaaring makasakit sa inyo,” Padilla stressed.
“Kaya hinihingi po namin ang pasensya at pag-unawa ng lahat. ‘Pag oras na po na kami’y ganap na sigurado na hindi na po talaga ito magiging balakid, kami po’y magbibigay ng senyales at makikipag-ugnayan sa local government upang pahintulutan na po ito,” he added.
For his part, Office of Civil Defense (OCD) Assistant Secretary Kristoffer Purisima said a massive cleanup drive dubbed as “Brigada Marawi” is continuously being conducted in affected areas.
The initiative, which was launched on Oct.4, is led by the local government of Marawi, with the assistance of the AFP.
“As of yesterday, Oct. 19, 22 barangays benefitted from the cleanup drive and more sectors and stakeholders are joining the Marawi City local government unit, where they aim to restore the cleanliness and sanitation in the city,” Purisima cited.
Purisima also gave updates on the Post-Conflict Needs Assessment (PCNA) of affected areas. He said the inter-agency PCNA teams already assessed 10 barangays to date, with 16 more barangays yet to be visited.
Martial law still in effect in Mindanao
Meanwhile, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella reiterated the President’s statement that martial law in Mindanao would not be lifted until the last terrorist had been taken out.
The Cabinet official said the death of the ringleaders of the Marawi rebellion, including Omar Maute, Isnilon Hapilon, and Mahmud Ahmad, do not automatically result in the lifting of martial law.
“There are remnants, including networks supporting the Maute — the Maute cause within Mindanao. The President is duty-bound not to compromise public safety,” Abella stressed.
On the other hand, Abella explained that President Duterte would still confer with the members of his Cabinet Security, the Justice and Peace Cluster in particular, to come up with a decision on the matter.
He said the President would discuss the necessary action to be taken with the Secretary of National Defense, who is the designated martial law administrator, and the AFP Chief of Staff, who is the designated martial law implementor.
No sacred government exec
Following President Duterte’s announcement that he sacked an undersecretary of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) due to allegations of corruption, Abella, in the same press briefing, said this development shows no government official is sacred under Duterte’s administration.
“The President’s action highlights that no government official is sacred under this administration,” Abella said.
“Let this be a reminder to all public officers that we are all here, not for ourselves but for the greater good,” he added.