MARAWI CITY – Philippine troops have failed Monday to liberate Marawi City from the hands of the local ISIS group as fighting continues while the country celebrates its 119th Independence Day.
The military earlier vowed to flush out the militants and liberate the city which has been under ISIS control since May 23 when fighters occupied much of Marawi and took some 240 civilians, including a Catholic priest hostage.
The Independence Day celebration turned emotional as some government workers and soldiers, and even civilians displaced by the violence, silently wept while they sing the national anthem. The sounds of gunfire and bombs dropped from military planes reverberated during the solemn commemoration of the Independence Day.
Military officials offered prayers to soldiers who perished in the war which is now on its third week. Dozens of soldiers and civilians had already been killed in the fighting and with over 260,000 people displaced, there is no sign the ISIS is backing out from the battle despite military pronouncements that it had killed some 160 jihadists.
Soldiers and policemen also took the opportunity to hang replicas of the Philippine flag in areas declared “safe zones” by the authorities as a symbolism of democracy and freedom, but it was unclear when the fighting would stop and for those displaced by the deadly and violent ISIS campaign, all they hoped is for the war to stop and start rebuilding their lives, homes and bring back peace to the 368-year old Maranao city.
ISIS, whose members are mostly from the jihadist Maute group, also released a new video clip where a fighter, who spoke fluent Tagalog – the national language – said the fighting they are waging is not about them, but to the Muslims who are now minority in Mindanao, which was under the rule of the Sultans in the past.
The unidentified militant, an automatic rifle placed in front of him on a wooden table, repeatedly said that Mindanao is now being governed by “Kufar” or unbeliever, and said they are only fighting for freedom forcefully taken away from them. He went on blaming the Kufar for the destruction of Marawi.
The military did not give any statement on the latest ISIS propaganda posted on Facebook, but it said there are still some 400 militants fighting government troops in Marawi, a far cry from previous statement of the Western Mindanao Command that only 15 gunmen had occupied the city. (With a report from Rhoderick Beñez)
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