Philippines warns of retaliation by terrorists, plans to establish Marawi military base

Filipino soldiers conduct patrol next to bombed-out buildings in the ruined city of Marawi, on Oct 17, 2017.
Filipino soldiers conduct patrol next to bombed-out buildings in the ruined city of Marawi, on Oct 17, 2017.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MANILA/DAVAO CITY - The Philippine police and military in Mindanao remain on high alert for retaliatory attacks after the collapse of the terrorist siege of Marawi City and the battlefield deaths of the terrorists' leaders this week, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported.

As opposition leaders in the House of Representatives called on President Rodrigo Duterte to "immediately" lift martial law in Mindanao now that the Marawi siege is over, the Philippine leader announced plans to establish a military base in the Islamic city.

Government troops killed on Monday Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon and Maute terror group leader Omarkhayam Maute, the last two leaders of the terrorist alliance that had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and seized large parts of Marawi in May.

The bodies of the two terrorist leaders had been recovered and identified, the military said.

President Duterte declared Marawi "liberated from terrorist influence" on Tuesday, although government troops were still battling 20 to 30 remaining terrorists and trying to rescue about 20 hostages.

Military officials said they expected the fighting to end soon.

With the deaths of Hapilon and Maute, "the terror threat has been mitigated," Representatives Tom Villarin, Teddy Baguilat and Edgar Erice said in a statement on Wednesday.

"Martial law in Mindanao has lost its reason for being and should be lifted," they added.

Another representative, Gary Alejano, reminded Duterte that on Sept 21 in Marawi City, he declared that he would lift his martial law declaration after the clearing operations. "I hope it was not just a joke to appease rallyists at that time," Alejano said in a separate statement.

There was no immediate comment from the presidential palace on Wednesday, but military spokesman Restituto Padilla Jr said on Tuesday that consultations would be held to determine whether martial law, which Duterte clamped on Mindanao on May 23 following the terrorist attack on Marawi, could now be lifted.

Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also said the lifting of martial law would be decided before the end of October.

Duterte on Wednesday announced plans to establish a military base in Marawi, saying he would "never again" allow hostile forces to ravage the city, the Philippine Star reported.

"Let's never allow this to happen. In my time, I will not allow it," he said, in remarks before soldiers in Marawi City."The government must have access here," he added.

THREAT FROM SYMPATHISERS

Padilla said the threat of terror remained, as sympathisers of the Abu Sayyaf and Maute groups could lay siege to another urban area or bomb and harass other communities in Mindanao.

The chief of the military's Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom), Rey Leonardo Guerrero, has ordered troops to be on alert for retaliatory attacks by sympathisers of the terrorists, Ezra Balagtay, a spokesman for the Eastmincom, said on Wednesday.

"The directive includes the intensification of security operations in different areas and the territorial waters [under Eastmincom jurisdiction]," Balagtay said.

TIGHTER SECURITY

Eastmincom has operational control over Army and Navy units in the regions of Davao, Caraga, South Cotabato and Sarangani and parts of Northern Mindanao.

In Cotabato City, its police director said tighter security measures coordinated with the military were in place.

A spokesman for the North Cotabato police said security forces across the province had been placed on heightened alert.

Meanwhile, the Maguindanao police director said the provincial police and the military's 6th Infantry Division were closely monitoring ISIS-inspired Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) operating in the province's second district.

In Cagayan de Oro City, a spokesman for the Army's 4th Infantry Division, said troops remained vigilant. "We cannot let our guard down," he said.