By Alexis Romero
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED 11:19 a.m) - President Duterte is allowing security forces to take their time on the Marawi crisis even as he stressed that the operations against the Maute terrorists would continue until the last terrorist is killed.
Duterte said there are around 300 civilians who are still trapped in the battle zone.
“We will finish it. We are not joking. Until the last terrorist is taken out, the war will continue. They have 300 hostages there and that is what is delaying (the operations),” the President said during his second state of the nation address.
“Sabi ko, huwag mo muna i-assault (I told them not to launch an assault) if possible. we just have to wait it out,” he added.
Duterte said the safety of the civilians remains the primary consideration of government forces.
“I don’t care if they are Moros or Christians. I don’t want these innocents to be slaughtered so hintay lang tayo (let’s just wait). Patience,” he said.
The militants, mostly members of the Maute group, rounded up civilians in the country’s only Islamic city, even before the government began its offensive.
Fighting erupted in Marawi City after security forces tried to arrest wanted Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon.
More than 400 terrorists and close to 100 government troopers have been killed since the clashes started last May 23. On the same day – while in Russia on a state visit – Duterte issued a proclamation placing Mindanao under martial law.
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