The Philippine military said nine more soldiers died while fighting militants in southern Marawi city as President Rodrigo Duterte secured congressional approval to extend martial law in the south for the rest of the year.
The nine were killed Friday when Islamic State-linked enemy forces snuck close to government positions and lobbed hand grenades, said Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, the chief of the Western Mindanao Command. He did not elaborate on the incident, citing operational matters.
This brings the death toll since the fighting began on May 23 to 109 soldiers, 452 militants and 45 civilians, according to the latest tally released Monday.
Also on Monday, local health officials and police laid to rest 27 bodies retrieved from the war zone in Marawi. The bodies – unidentified and unclaimed by their relatives – were given a Muslim burial in a mass grave in nearby Iligan city.
The mass burial took place just hours before Duterte delivered his annual state-of-the-nation address to Congress, during which he said that the government was prepared to wage “urban warfare” with the gunmen.
“Until the last terrorist is taken out, the war will continue,” Duterte said, adding that security forces believed the gunmen were still holding at least 300 civilians as human shields.
“I do not want these innocents slaughtered. Patience,” he said.
He said the battle dealt a terrible blow to the government’s quest for peace with the gunmen espousing what he described as an alien ideology.
“There is rebellion in Mindanao,” he said.
“The extremists have declared it their purpose to establish a caliphate within Philippine territory along the teachings and beliefs of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or otherwise known as ISIS,” he said, using another acronym for Islamic State (IS).
Talking to reporters after the speech, Duterte admitted there was a “failure of intelligence” that allowed the enemy to stock up on arms in Marawi.“There was a mistake in the evaluation of assessment,” he said.
Martial law extension
On Saturday, Duterte’s allies in Congress voted to grant his request to extend martial law in the entire south until Dec. 31.
They approved the request after Duterte argued that the enemy force was larger than initially thought and better armed than had been feared.
Troops have been slowly inching their way into four villages occupied by the Abu Sayyaf and Maute group gunmen, who were backed by militants from Southeast Asia and the Middle East.
Staunch allies the United States and Australia have been providing intelligence help to Philippine forces in the campaign. Singapore has also offered to do the same.
BenarNews journalists who were allowed to follow troops as they advanced into enemy-held areas said soldiers were using loudspeakers to call on the fighters to give up.
“Surrender now! The government knows where you are hiding,” the broadcast said. “Your families are waiting for you.”
The taped broadcasts, blasted from speakers placed in strategic areas near the frontline, were aired in the local dialects of Maranaw, Tausug, Yakan and Maguindanao that are widely spoken by Filipino Muslims.
Near the speakers, a Marine officer fired mortar rounds toward an area controlled by the militants.
“These loudspeakers are good psychological weapons. They are very effective,” Marine Lt. Col. Bill Pasia said.
“If our mortars are not effective, these loudspeakers are a big help persuading the ISIS-Maute militants to surrender,” he said, using a local term for the IS.
Pasia said some militants had surrendered after hearing the broadcast, but he could not give details.
Felipe Villamor in Manila contributed to this report.