Duterte: I will rebuild Marawi

PHOTO: AFP

MANILA - As bombing runs and intense gunfights reduced most of the city to rubble, President Duterte promised to see to it that Marawi would rise as a prosperous city again, even as he said he had known the fight against the extremists would be a long one.

Emerging from a six-day furlough from the public eye to lead the Eid'l Fitr celebration in Malacañang, Mr. Duterte said he took no pleasure in winning the war and that he was hurting from the destruction and the deaths in the Islamic city.

"I am not happy that the Maranaos are dying. I am not happy with the hardships you are facing. I see no satisfaction even in winning the war. I just wanted this thing over, and these radicals and extremists out of the Muslim world," Mr. Duterte said.

He also said he knew there would be a lengthy battle in Marawi when declared martial law for Mindanao while he was in Moscow.

"I knew how long it would take for us and I knew the deployment of the snipers and where they kept their arms. I already had the complete picture and I knew that would be a long fight," he said.

"But if you ask if I am happy, son of a… I am also bleeding like you," he added.

He said he had cousins who joined the Maute, one of the groups that rampaged through Marawi and had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

Fear, confusion in Marawi city

  • Four hungry chickens clawed at rubbish in a deserted street that smelt of corpses as military helicopters skimmed the rooftops firing rockets while the Philippines' most beautiful Muslim city burned. 
  • Marawi, a lakeshore city of minarets that is the centre of culture for the mainly Catholic Philippines' Muslim minority, is nearly empty after gunmen wielding black flags of the Islamic State (IS) group went on a rampage last week. 
  • Despite a relentless military campaign, an unknown number of gunmen remain held up in pockets of the city and holding hostages, while up to 2,000 residents are trapped. 
  • "These guys know how to fight. It looks like they have had some training," Marawi city police chief Parson Asadil told AFP on Monday in grudging acknowledgement as he manned a checkpoint. 
  • At least one of his men had been killed and five are missing, he said. 
  • The official death toll is 19 civilians, 17 soldiers, three police and 65 militants.  It is almost certain to rise. 
  • A police commando told reporters in Marawi he suspected the still off-limits public market was full of dead bodies. 
  • Those trapped are in danger of being hit by rockets or getting caught in the crossfire of the battles, while a lack of electricity, water, food and medical care could be just as deadly, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. 
  • "Sick people have already died because they couldn't get out. There are elderly in there." 
  • The military campaign involves dangerous house-to-house combat with the gunmen using sniper fire to deadly effect from key structures and buildings. 
  • At multiple military and police checkpoints outside of the city there were long lines while security forces cross-checked residents' faces against the mug shots of known terror suspects printed on large posters. 
  • Helicopters also fly regularly over the areas being held by the militants and fire rockets, even with civilians known to be in nearby buildings. 
  • At a key city crossing, where local police chief Asadil's unit took shelter from the sun on the side of buildings while manning a checkpoint on Monday, the streets were empty except for the four scrawny chickens. 
  • Shops nearby were boarded up, with glass facades riddled with bullet holes. A truck with a smashed windshield and blown-out tyres blocked the road a block away. 
  • Before the fighting, Marawi had a population of 200,000 people, more than 90 per cent of whom were Muslim. 
  • Since the fighting began neighbouring towns and cities have been swamped with fleeing Marawi residents, some having walked two days from mountain villages to skirt the fighting. 
  • At multiple military and police checkpoints outside of the city there were long lines while security forces cross-checked residents' faces against the mug shots of known terror suspects printed on large posters. 
  • "This would not have happened to us if the gunmen had not come to our village." 
  • Another Muslim resident expressed bewilderment at the reported goals of the gunmen: imposing a brutal form of rule such as that seen by IS in Iraq and Syria, with anyone not sharing their ideology regarded as the enemy.
  • "They are supposed to be part of our tribe, they are supposed to be our kin, but even we don't understand what their cause is," the man said. 

Mr. Duterte vowed once more to end the conflict and promised as well to bring back Marawi to its former glory.

"But one thing I will promise you, my brother Moro, I will see to it that Marawi will rise as a prosperous city again," he said.

He had set aside P20 billion to rebuild the city, and said he would allocate more if necessary.

"I will rebuild Marawi because if not, I will remain forever the villain," he said.

He stressed that his government was committed to the pursuit of peace.

"To our brothers and sisters who have been affected by the violence and conflict in Mindanao, I assure you that the government is committed to securing just and lasting peace in the island. The military and the police remain hard at work to ending the crisis with dispatch, especially in Marawi," he said.

He called on them to channel their energies to building a society grounded on "love, respect, and understanding."

"Because it is by dedicating our lives to the betterment of humanity that we can best demonstrate our obedience and devotion to Allah," he added.

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