By Roy Ramos
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines
Government forces continued to sweep Marawi of militants Tuesday, a day after President Rodrigo Duterte declared the city liberated from terrorists.
Military chief General Eduardo Año said the small number of remaining fighters does not pose a serious threat to the government’s plans for Marawi’s recovery and rehabilitation.
In an interview with ABS-CBN News on Tuesday, Marawi City Mayor Majul Usman Gandamra estimated that the city will be “totally liberated” from militants in three days.
"We were briefed by the military that there are around 11-20 fighters who are holding more than 10 hostages," said
However, the rehabilitation phase for the city, which was destroyed by a nearly five-month war, will take at least three years.
While no electrical towers were destroyed in the gunfights, the government is still in the process of assessing the damage and the availability of funds and other resources.
More than 300,000 residents displaced by the conflict that erupted on May 23 are not yet allowed to return to the city despite Duterte’s declaration.
Government officials are seeking their patience and understanding as there are still areas where there is resistance from the enemy apart from the 60-80 buildings that need to be cleared of improvised explosive devices.
"We must be 100% sure that no bombs, no booby traps are left in these areas," military spokesperson Major General Restituto Padilla said.
Mopping-up operations by troops include the recovery of more than PHP1 billion ($19.45 million) worth of money believed to have been stolen by militants from the three banks in the city as well as cash and jewelry from homes and establishments.
“Rest assured, our soldiers, our airmen, our sailors, our marines and our police officers and coastguard who continue to be in this fight are determined and focused to finish it as soon as possible,” said Padilla.
Military units in other areas of the country have also raised the alert level following the deaths of top terrorists Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute.
“The commander of the Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) issued directives to all units to raise the alert level in their respective areas of responsibility to prevent any reprisals from sympathetic groups,” said Eastmincom spokesperson Major Ezra Balagtey.
Duterte earlier announced that threats from allies of the Abu Sayyaf and Maute groups in other areas of Mindanao need to be assessed prior to the lifting of martial law imposed on the entire island, which is set to expire on Dec. 31.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said a recommendation on the imposition of military rule will be submitted to Duterte within the month.
As of Tuesday, 847 militants, 163 government