THE Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Tuesday evening, May 23, said the government forces are in “full control and have stabilized” the situation in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur.
The AFP's announcement came an hour after President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao as a clash erupted between the government forces and members of Maute terror group in Marawi City.
“Security forces are in full control of the situation,” Public Affairs Marine Colonel Edgard Arevalo said around 11 p.m., Tuesday.
In a press conference in Moscow, Russia, Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said two soldiers and one policeman were reported killed, while 12 others were injured in a firefight that erupted around 3 p.m., Tuesday.
The AFP, earlier, said the operation in Marawi City is aimed at neutralizing Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon who was spotted along with his followers in the area.
Hapilon is reportedly the representative of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis) terror group in the Philippines.
The AFP clarified that the armed men they were dealing with were not members of Isis but members of local terrorist group.
“The news being circulated by these terrorists and their sympathizers are spurious and are meant to spread lies and disinformation. It is propaganda to attract foreign terrorists’ support and recognition,” Arevalo said.
He belied “eyewitness account” that Amai Pakpak Hospital was occupied and that there were hostages. He also said that the Marawi City Hall was not occupied “as were earlier reported merely quoting sources.”
"The sporadic firefights heard were harassment actions by terrorist sympathizers that were conducted as diversionary tactics to divide the attention of the reinforcing AFP personnel," Arevalo said.
Lorenzana, however, earlier confirmed that Maute bandits began occupying some establishments in the city like Amai Pakpak Medical Center, the City Hall, and the city jail.
He also verified that the church, city jail, Ninoy Aquino School and Dansalan College have been set on fire by the group.
"As of tonight (Tuesday, May 23), the Maute group burned several facilities – the church, city jail, the Ninoy Aquino School and the Dansalan College. The Maute fighters still occupy also the main street of Marawi city called the Quezon Street and two bridges," Lorenzana said.
The AFP urged the public to "refrain from posting in social media information that would exacerbate the situation."
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said Duterte will be cutting short his trip to Russia, stressing that the Chief Executive feels “that he is needed in Manila as soon as possible.”
“The physical presence of the President is needed in the Philippines. That is the President’s assessment. And his priority is always the protection and of each of every Filipino,” he added. (With Ruth Abbey Gita/SunStar Philippines)