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16 hostages rescued, 5 more bodies found; 8 foreign rebels hunted, reconstruction set



(Photo from Philippine Daily Inquirer)


MARAWI CITY — Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, Southeast Asia’s most notorious Islamic State-linked terrorist leader and the so-called “emir” of the IS in the region, and Maute group leader Omar Maute, were killed in an Oct. 16 dawn attack by the military in Marawi City signalling a possible end to the Marawi siege where over 1,000 perished, 162 of them soldiers and policemen and 37 civilians and displaced over 200,000 residents.


Following the killing, President Rodrigo Duterte immediately flew to Marawi City, his seventh visit, and declared that the city has been freed in a speech before government troops   after more than four months of battling the Islamic State-inspired terrorists. Duterte was accompanied by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Ano and other officials.


"Ladies and gentlemen, I hereby declare Marawi City liberated from the terrorist influence that marks the beginning of rehabilitation of the city," said Duterte. 


The Philippine flag was raised and soldiers in the strife-torn city cheered “mabuhay” (long live) following the declaration of the liberation of the city.


During the earlier part of Duterte's speech, gunshots could be heard from the background but military officers said this was part of the mopping up operations against the remaining terrorists, at least eight of them were believed to be foreigners from Malaysia, Indonesia and other countries.


Joint Task Group Ranao deputy commander Colonel Romeo Brawner said the ongoing operation was also aimed to rescue the remaining hostages of the Maute group.


"This is just a reminder, a declaration na tapos na ang Marawi siege and we can move on forward to the recovery and rehabilitation efforts," Brawner said.


Brawner said that with Duterte's declaration, the joint task force will move to the next phase of clearing the entire city, particularly the battle zone, of the Maute group's bombs and unexploded ordnance. After this, the Department of Health will "sanitize" the city before the actual rehabilitation could start, he added.


He said part of the clearing operation of the government troops is to recover the cadavers within the battle zone.


The military, however, is not discounting the possibility of sympathy attacks of terrorists following the  killing of Omar Maute and  Hapilon.


Immediately, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) raised the level of alert of their men, especially in Davao and other areas in Mindanao, to avert retaliatory attacks by the terrorists.


Col. Edgard Arevalo, AFP Public Affairs Office chief, declared the military is ready to thwart any possible retaliatory attacks, adding that the military actively coordinates with concerned sectors, local government units, and the community in the fight against terrorism.


The United States hailed the operation of the military that killed the two ISIS-linked leaders and vowed to continue working closely with Filipino counterparts to fight extremism and terrorism.


“We congratulate our partners in the Armed Forces of the Philippines for their reported success in killing two of the leaders behind the months-long clash in Marawi: Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute,” said US Embassy spokesperson Molly Koscina.


The Department of National Defense (DND), meanwhile, said martial law would remain in effect in Mindanao.


“No, we are not talking about lifting martial law yet, tingnan pa natin, we are only looking in the immediate aftermath of the killing of these two leaders, we may, sabi ko nga we may be lifting, I mean announcing the cessation of hostilities within this week and then after that we will find out,” said Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.


Lorenzana confirmed the death of the two terrorists at a briefing at the Armed Forces headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo hours after the dawn attack. Malacanang also confirmed the news later in the day.


Lorenzo later in the day flew to Marawi City where he conferred with AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Ano and the military officers and men behind and held a press briefing for local, regional and international media.


Ang implication nito ay malapit nang matapos ‘yong Marawi incident natin [The implication of this is the Marawi incident will soon end] and we may announce the termination of hostilities in a couple of days,” said Lorenzana.


Lorenzana said the death of Hapilon and Maute signals the end of Marawi conflict but operations may continue to arrest other Maute members and other terrorists in other areas in Mindanao like Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi and Cotabato. “We will be on guard still,” he said, adding the terrorists can spring counter-attacks.


“We will continue to be vigilant so this (Marawi siege) will not happen again,” he added.


Lorenzana said the government would need P100 billion to fully rehabilitate Marawi City which will take at least three years to complete.


Rehabilitation could begin before the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in the middle of November, he said.


Rebuilding Marawi City could cost up to $8 billion (P410 billion) and take up to 50 years, according to noted architect and urban planner Felino Palafox Jr.


But Palafox proposed that instead of rebuilding devastated parts of Marawi, the government should build another city around the former battle zone.


Palafox said he saw first-hand the devastation in Marawi and that it would be better to keep the ruins as a memorial.


He cited the example of Hiroshima, which opted to preserve ground zero of an atomic bombing as a memorial to World War II.


The AFP said eight foreign terrorists are among the remaining band of Maute terrorists in Marawi City.


“Indications have been received that there indeed are six to eight foreign fighters are in the area but whose spirits are very much down and whose willingness to fight is not as high as it was previously,” said Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, the AFP spokesman.


Padilla identified one of the foreign terrorists as Mahmud Ahmad, a Malaysian national who is fighting on the side of the Maute group in the city.


“Dr. Mahmud is an academic he is not a fighter and his experience in fighting is not as extensive as anyone like Hapilon or the Maute brothers Omar in particular and hence his ability to tactically lead the fight is not there essentially and so we don’t see this as a problem. That’s why even if we do say that he is still there this is not a hundred percent guaranteed because we still have to find clear evidence that will indicate their presence in the area,” Padilla said.


Padilla, however, said the military has yet to confirm whether Ahmad is still within the main battle area in Marawi.


US Special Forces have been assisting the AFP end the siege by providing technical assistance and enemy surveillance to Filipino troops battling the militants in Marawi.


“The US is proud to support the AFP’s counterterrorism efforts in Mindanao through intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, and other technical assistance,” said the US Embassy’s Molly Koscina.


Philippines-US counter-terrorism cooperation over the years has successfully led to the killing of key local terrorists in Mindanao.


“The US-Philippine alliance is built on a 70-year history. We will continue working with our Filipino friends, partners and allies to eradicate violent extremism and terrorism‎,” Kosina said.


President Duterte issued Proclamation No. 216 on May 23 declaring martial law and suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the whole of Mindanao. This was a result of the attack of the Maute group in Marawi City.


Lorenzana said the military is prepared for possible retaliation of Maute remnants. “We are prepared, our troops are prepared, alam naman natin that it is the modus operandi of the enemy to make, to create diversion dito, diversion dyan, retaliation din, so our troops are prepared,” he said.


Malacañang had announced a P5 million bounty for the "neutralization" of each of the Maute brothers, and P10 million for Hapilon.


A separate $5 million bounty was also offered by US for the arrest of Hapilon.


Seventeen hostages, including a five-year-old child, were rescued during the earlyMonday morning military offensive where Hapilon and Maute were killed.


Lorenzana said the whereabouts of Hapilon and Maute, who were holed up in a building in Marawi City, were revealed by a female hostage who had escaped.


"They were able to get a testimony from a hostage who was able to escape. She was able to confirm the presence of Isnilon and Maute in that particular building. That's the building that we assaulted this morning. They are confirmed dead," Lorenzana said


Another leader, Abdullah Maute, was reported by the Philippine Army to have been killed in August, though no body was found to prove his death.


In June, the brothers' parents- father Cayamora and mother Farhana- were arrested in separate police operations. Cayamora died in August.


The military has several times reported the possible deaths of the leaders, their escape, or presence in the Marawi battle zone, but has not had solid proof.


The clashes have killed 813 rebels, 47 civilians and 162 military since insurgents seized the heart of Marawi on May 23, according to the Philippine government.


The siege has reduced the once-bustling city of Marawi into ruins, with many buildings and even mosques completely destroyed and riddled with bullets and shrapnel.

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(Photo from Manila Bulletin)


MANILA – Citizens, although they widely support President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, have started to get angry as more people, including young students and teenagers who are perceived to be innocent, are killed by police operatives in their operations.


Manila Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the head of the Philippines' powerful Catholic Church,  for one, called for an end to what he described as "waste of human lives" following a brutal week in President Duterte's drug war in which 60 people died in a day of police operatives alone, including Kian delos Santos, a 17-year-old student in CalooCan City.


Youth groups, human rights organizations and religious communities trooped to EDSA People Power Monument in Quezon City on August 21 – the 34th anniversary of the murder of senator Ninoy Aquino – to call for an end to killings in the country.


“Sigaw ng taumbayan: itigil ang patayan!” they chanted during the protest dubbed “Himagsikan #JusticeForKian.”


US Ambassador to Manila Sung Kim joined the chorus of calls for accountability over the anti-drug operation that claimed the life of Kian Lloyd Delos Santos. 


"My condolences go out to the family and friends of Kian. Hope that the investigations lead to full accountability," Kim wrote on Twitter. 


At the tomb of his father in Paranaque City, former President Benigno S. Aquino III also called for end to killings as he likened them to martial law during the time of President Ferdinand Marcos.


The Senate whose majority members are allies of President Duterte, meanwhile, assailed the killing of Kian and joined the Commission on Human Rights and the Department of Justice in investigating the killing.


The Grade 11 student whose mother has been working in Saudi Arabia was shot dead last Wednesday, August 16, when he allegedly resisted arrest in Barangay 160, Caloocan City. Witnesses, however, claimed the teenager was mauled by policemen, given a gun and told to run before he was shot. The witnesses’ claims were supported by a CCTV recording of an unarmed Kian being waylaid by policemen after he was collared.


The public outrage triggered by the killing of Kian prompted President Duterte to call for an investigation over the manner by which Kian was killed at the hands of police officers who executed an anti-drug operation.


“Should the investigation point to liabilities by one, two, or all, there will be a prosecution and they have to go to jail,” President Duterte declared at a Malacañang guest house press conference hastily called for that purpose.


The Delos Santos family has initiated a move to file a murder complaint in the wake of autopsy findings by the Public Attorney’s Office that Kian succumbed to three gunshot wounds, each of which could have been fatal.


Three police officers identified to be behind the arrest and killing of Kian were ordered arrested by Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa.


The three policemen were identified as Police Officer 3 Arnel Oares and Police Officers 1 Jeremias Pereda and Jerwin Cruz.


Surveillance footage showed 2 officers accompanying Kian Delos Santos to the spot where the boy was killed. Witnesses alleged that the police beat up the victim, gave him a gun by force, and told the teener to run for his life and thereupon was shot at least three times.


Duterte said there could have been abuses in his government's war on drugs and ordered the police to take custody of officers who were involved in the killing of Kian Lloyd delos Santos.


In a hastily called news conference at the Presidential Guest House, Duterte said he would not condone abuses and the police officers would have to face the consequences of their actions if that is the recommendation of a formal investigation.


"There is a possibility that in some of police incidents there could be abuses. I admit that," Duterte said.


Duterte said he called up the national police chief after seeing footage from a CCTV camera showing plain clothes police dragging the boy, who was later found dead after what official reports described as gunfight in a sting operation.


He said he would abide by the results of an investigation by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). "If the NBI says we file charges of murder, sorry to the policemen concerned," he said.


"You have to face the justice system. They have to go to jail if convicted," he said.


He said there are some rogue elements in the police that were destroying the image of the government.


"These abusive police officers are destroying the credibility of the government," he added. "Who will follow the government if the credibility is destroyed."


The United States earlier expressed concern on the deaths of thousands of drug suspects under the campaign. President  Duterte, in turn, hurled curses at the Western superpower. 


Ties between Manila and Washington have thawed since US President Donald Trump came to power. The American leader has not directly criticized Duterte's controversial campaign so far. 


Public Attorney's Office chief Persida Rueda-Acosta said Kian died due to three fatal wounds. “Tatlong fatal wounds po ito – dalawa sa ulo at isa sa likod … Ito ay gunshot wounds. At isa po ay treacherous wound,” she said.


The outcome of a re-autopsy conducted at the prompting of the family disclosed that Kian died of three fatal gunshot wounds “that were meant to kill”.


The findings by the forensic team from the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) prompted the move by the family to file murder charges against police officers implicated in the incident.


The viewing at Kian’s wake was interrupted to make way for the four-hour autopsy by the forensic team from PAO.


In summary, the team observed that Kian died of three wounds: One bullet wound was at Kian’s back, while two other hits were to his left ear.


The Senate majority bloc released a resolution condemning and calling for a probe on the death of Kian Loyd Delos Santos.


It is titled a “Resolution expressing the sense of the Senate to condemn the killing of Kian Loyd Delos Santos and to direct the appropriate Senate committee to conduct an inquiry in aid of legislation to determine the accountability of the Philippine National Police in the conduct of the campaign against illegal drugs that may have resulted in unnecessary and unjustified deaths and/or killings.”


The resolution was signed by 14 out of 17 senators belonging to the majority bloc namely Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, Senators Juan Edgardo Angara, Joseph Victor Ejercito, Sherwin Gatchalian, Richard Gordon, Gringo Honasan, Panfilo Lacson, Loren Legarda, Grace Poe, Joel Villanueva, Cynthia Villar, and Juan Miguel Zubiri. Senators Nancy Binay, Francis Escudero, and Manny Pacquiao  signed the resolution later.


More than a hundred Filipino artists are urging President Duterte to stop the government’s bloody war on illegal drugs as they denounced the recent drug-related killings in the country, especially of the “the innocent and young.”


“We, Filipino cultural workers, condemn the killings wrought by the war on drugs, especially of the innocent, the young, and those caught in the crossfire,” they said in a statement.


“We denounce the normalization of these killings, the pardon of rogue police and military men," the statement was signed by 168 cultural workers; among them were writers Ricky Lee and Lourd de Veyra, filmmakers Lav Diaz and Jun Lana, actors Angeli Bayani and Cherry Pie Picache, director Quark Henares, and musician Ebe Dancel.


While the government is waging war against illegal drugs, the group noted its “silence” on the issue of the P6.4-billion worth smuggled shabu from China that allegedly slipped past the Bureau of Customs.


“Where Filipinos are dying on mere suspicion of involvement in drugs, where deaths are justified by victims’ inclusion in questionable drug lists, where a few grams of drugs on a person has been used to justify murder, government has fallen silent on the P6.4-billion worth of smuggled drugs from China, for which there have been no suspects charged,” the artists said in a statement.

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