MANILA, Philippines – It was just one sentence, but it rang the words the nation had long wanted to hear for the last 148 days.
Standing on a stage which had posts and walls pockmarked with bullet holes, President Rodrigo Duterte announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, I hereby declare Marawi City liberated from the terrorist influence that marks the beginning of rehabilitation.”
The audience of mostly soldiers roared in approval and applauded, unmindful of the rains which started pouring just before Duterte gave his historic declaration Tuesday, October 17. Millions of Filipino have long looked forward to this proclamation, but for these men at the warfront, it was doubly significant. Those words meant that the soldiers have accomplished their mission. The country owes them for their bravery.
Probably the best news about the Marawi war broke out a day earlier, on Monday morning, October 16, when Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana confirmed in an impromptu media briefing the killings of Abu Sayyaf subleader Isnilon Hapilon and Maute Group leader Omar Maute. Armed Forces chief General Eduardo Año described the death of the two terrorist leaders “as the straw that broke the camel’s back” and added that the end of the war was at hand.
All told, as of October 16, the military said 163 soldiers and policemen have been killed in action, 60 government forces missing, 47 civilians dead, and 847 terrorists (including 12 foreigners) killed. Over 1,400 soldiers and policemen were wounded. But the biggest number of those affected by the bitter war were the thousands of residents who fled Marawi and are now in various evacuation centers. Before the fighting broke out, government records showed Marawi had a population of over 200,000.
See highlights of the 5-month long siege through lens of photographers who were at the warfront.