Fighting in Marawi ongoing as Philippines celebrates Independence Day

National flags were raised for Independence Day in a ceremony dedicated to the scores killed in the fighting in Marawi City, which was overrun by the Daesh-linked Maute militant group three weeks ago.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Evacuees participate in a flag raising to mark Independence Day in Marawi City, Philippines, June 12, 2017.

Bomb blasts rocked Marawi City in the southern Philippines on Monday as the national flag was raised to mark Independence Day, almost three weeks after hundreds of Daesh-linked militants overran the town and hunkered down with civilians as human shields.

Rescue workers, soldiers and firemen sang the national anthem and listened to speeches as three OV-10 attack aircraft darted through the cloudy sky, taking turns to drop bombs on areas where fighters are still holed up.

"To our Muslim brothers there, we want to tell them to stop their meaningless fight because we are all Muslims," Vice Provincial Governor Mamintal Adiong Jr told the gathering.

Flag ceremonies are normally performed twice a week. This was the first in the mainly Muslim town since May 23, the first day of the siege, when the militants killed and abducted Christians, and torched a cathedral.

TRT World's Shamim Chowdhury reports from the Philippines.

City under siege

Almost the entire population of about 200,000 fled from the lakeside town on the Philippines southernmost island of Mindanao, but beyond the checkpoints fencing it off, there are still some 500 to 1,000 civilians trapped or held hostage.

As of Saturday, the number of security forces killed in the battle for Marawi stood at 58. The death toll for civilians was 20 and more than 100 had been killed overall.

The seizure of Marawi by Maute and other fighters allied to Daesh, including some from the Middle East, has alarmed South-east Asian nations which fear the ultra-radical group – on a back foot in Iraq and Syria – is trying to set up a stronghold on Mindanao that could threaten their region.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said on Sunday he had not expected the battle for Marawi to be as serious as it has turned out. He added it had now emerged "that Baghdadi himself, the leader of Daesh, has specifically ordered terroristic activities here in the Philippines."

Duterte did not say how he knew that Daesh leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi had given instructions for the attack on Marawi.


Soldiers salute during a flag raising ceremony at the Lanao Del Sur provincial capital of Marawi on the southern island of Mindanao. June 12, 2017. (AFP)

Plan to take other cities foiled 

Foreign Affairs Minister Allan Peter Cayetano said in an Independence Day speech in Manila that the militants had planned to take over at least two or three cities in Mindanao.

Their plot was foiled because troops made a preemptive raid on Marawi to capture Isnilon Hapilon, leader of the Abu Sayyaf group and Daesh's "emir" of South-east Asia.

"We want to coordinate very well with Indonesia and Malaysia so they won't also suffer in the hands of extremists," he said.

"But the president knew at the start of his term that, as the allies become more successful in Syria and Iraq, they [Daesh] will be looking for a land base, and Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines will be a potential target to them."

Duterte unaware of Washington's support

Washington said at the weekend it was providing support to the Armed Forces of the Philippines to clear the militants from pockets of Marawi. Manila said this was technical assistance and there were no US "boots on the ground."

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said support included aerial surveillance and targeting, electronic eavesdropping, communications assistance and training. A US P-3 Orion surveillance plane was seen over the town on Friday.

The cooperation between the longtime allies in the battle is significant because Duterte, who came to power a year ago, has taken a hostile stance towards Washington and has vowed to eject US military trainers and advisers from his country.

The Pentagon has no permanent presence in the Philippines but for years has kept 50 to 100 special forces troops in the south of the country on rotational exercises.

Duterte said on Sunday he had not sought support from Washington to end the siege and had not been aware that US special forces were assisting.

Cayetano said the government did not need to be involved in decisions on US participation because of a bilateral visiting forces agreement and, with "events happening real time," such matters are left to the armed forces and defence department.

Source: 
TRTWorld, Reuters