Troops striving to complete their mission before Duterte’s SONA later this month » Manila Bulletin News



By Genalyn Kabiling

Government troops are striving to complete their mission in Marawi before President Duterte delivers his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) later this month.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said he has asked ground commanders to try to resolve the siege in Marawi so the President could announce the rehabilitation program in his upcoming national address.

“It is my hope that wala ng bakbakan, wala na sana kasi we would like to also para naman hindi mahirapan sa SONA niya na nagsasalita siya doon sa Congress, meron pang bakbakan. Sana tapos na [It is my hope the fighting would be over because we would like the President not to have difficulty in his SONA, where he would speak before Congress while fighting is ongoing],” Lorenzana said during a Palace press briefing.

A soldier takes aim at militant positions from a rooftop in Marawi City as fierce combat between government troops and Maute Group terrorists. (AFP/Noel Celis)

“And that is one of the things I have asked the commanders on the ground that if they could terminate the conflict there before the President’s SONA,” he said.

Asked about the importance to finish the fighting before the SONA, Lorenza said: “For one, the President could also announce the rehabilitation program, kung nakabalik na ba kung mga sibilyan [if the residents have returned to their homes].”

Lorenzana, who leads the “Bangon Marawi” interagency task force, said the rehabilitation effort would commence once the fighting is over. He said residents would be allowed to their community as the government promised to help rebuild their damaged houses.

“We’d like when the President delivers his SONA, the rehabilitation is ongoing and maybe most of the people in the outskirts have returned to their homes,” Lorenzana said.

The President is scheduled to deliver his second SONA before a joint session of Congress on July 24. The annual address is an opportunity for the President to highlight his achievements in the past year and his plans for the coming year.

Government troops have been battling Islamic State-linked militants in Marawi since they launched a siege in the city last May 23. The death toll has risen to 459 as of July 2. Of this number, 336 terrorists, 84 troops and 39 civilians have been killed in the fighting.

Despite his hopes for the SONA, Lorenzana said they would no longer set a deadline after failing to meet previous timelines to end the conflict. He assured that government troops are trying their best to flush out the terrorists in Malawi City to allow the start of the rebuilding works.

At present, Lorenzana said the area of conflict is Marawi’s central business district with 1,500 houses and buildings that still must be cleared by the troops.

“And at the rate of clearing of 70 to 100 houses per day, it will take them some time to clear the area,” he said.

Meantime, the government is hoping to meet its six-month deadline to crush the Abu Sayyaf group. The deadline, announced by Armed Forces chief of staff Eduardo Año last February, would l expire on July 30.

“We still have one month so hopefully, we can finish the Abu Sayyaf,” Lorenzana said.

“We are actually talking about the Abu Sayyaf there in Marawi but don’t forget that we still have Abu Sayyaf existing in Jolo and in Basilan,” he added.


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