FILIPINO President Rodrigo Duterte declared the “liberation” of Marawi from Islamist militants yesterday — as troops began a final offensive in the southern city.
Mr Duterte made the announcement to soldiers at the ruins of a school less than a mile from where troops were attacking the last pocket held by Isis-affiliated Maute and Abu Sayyaf extremists.
“I hereby declare Marawi city liberated from the terrorist influence," he said to cheers.
Armed Forces chief of staff General Eduardo Ano said there were still “skirmishes” in the city, but that groups were “leaderless and they have no more organisation,” after the deaths of the last two Abu Sayyaf and Maute leaders.
Isnilon Hapilon and Omarkhayam Maute were allegedly killed in a gun battle on Monday.
Military spokesman Restituto Padilla said there were just 20 to 30 militants left, including about six to eight foreign jihadis.
The extremists seized the city on May 23 after an unsuccessful raid to capture Mr Hapilon.
The city’s 200,000 civilian inhabitants were evacuated before the army began its offensive which left 847 extremists dead along with 163 soldiers and police.
Some 47 civilians were killed in the fighting, many executed by the extremists.
For the past five months nearly 40,000 evacuees have been living in emergency centres in cramped and unhygienic conditions.
In June, Reuters reported that at least two people had died from diarrhoea due to poor sanitation.
Mr Duterte faced opposition protests over his declaration of martial law in the southern island of Mindanao in response to the emergency, comparing it to late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’s imposition of military rule over the entire country from 1972 to 1981.