Military hopes to liberate Marawi by Independence Day

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 9) — Government forces are stepping up offensives against the Maute terror group in Marawi City in a bid to liberate the besieged city ahead of the country's commemoration of Independence Day on June 12, military officials said Friday.

"Our soldiers are doing their part. They're doing their best, and are continuing on this effort on the ground to facilitate the liberation of Marawi, hopefully by Monday," said Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla in a news briefing in Malacanang.

Padilla expressed confidence that the military will be able to raise the Philippine flag in Marawi City on Independence Day.

"The chief-of-staff [AFP head Gen. Eduardo Año] made an announcement hoping that by Monday we can freely wave our flags in every corner of Marawi. We're working feverishly to do that," said Padilla, who is also spokesman for the martial law in Mindanao.

Fighting between thousands of government troops and hundreds of Maute group members in Marawi City, the capital of Lanao del Sur province entered its 18th day Friday. More than 239,000 persons have been internally displaced from their homes due to the clashes.

Padilla said the residents of Marawi City will enjoy freedom from terror if the military can liberate it on or by June 12, which is also the Philippines' 119th Independence Day anniversary.

"We are working overtime to facilitate the liberation of Marawi at the quickest time we can," he said.

Padilla enumerated several indicators that the Marawi crisis may be over soon.

"The volume of fire coming from the enemy's side, they're not as much as before. There are areas where there was so much enemy activity was monitored, but now seems to have dwindled. Sniper fire has been very selective," he said.

Padilla said this proves that the Maute's control over Marawi is "growing smaller by the day," but he said there are still three barangays (villages) in the city still held by the terror group.

AFP: Isnilon Hapilon still in Marawi

Rumors circulated that the former Abu Sayyaf-Basilan leader and wanted terrorist Isnilon Hapilon, who is collaborating with the Maute group, slipped out of Marawi City, but Padilla denied this.

WATCH: Maute, Hapilon plan Marawi terror attack

"Hindi po ito totoo at naniniwala sila [Task Force Marawi] na nandoon pa [si Hapilon]," he said, referring to the contingent of government forces on the ground responsible for flushing out members of the Maute out of Marawi.

Hapilon, also known as the "emir" of ISIS in the Philippines, has an outstanding warrant of arrest for kidnapping with ransom and serious illegal detention. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said joint forces of the army and police were attempting to serve a warrant of arrest on Hapilon on May 23 when they were fired upon by the Maute group, triggering the clashes.

The incident forced President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law in Mindanao on May 23.

READ: Duterte declares martial law in Mindanao

Padilla said the only end to the crisis is if the government is successful in arresting or killing Hapilon and Maute founders, the brothers Omar and Abdullah Maute. The brothers' father, Cayamora Maute, was arrested in Davao City on Tuesday and is detained in Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig.

Related: Military ready vs. threats as 'high-risk' Maute patriarch in Manila

"The end game is to have them arrested…But if we can't, to neutralize them because they will always fight it to the end. The liberation of Marawi will only be when every armed element in the city is gone: That means neutralized, targeted, or cleared," he said.

The AFP believes there ware 500 members of the Maute group in Marawi joined by fighters from other countries including Indonesia and Yemen. It added over a hundred members have been killed.

Padilla clarified that once the city is cleared of Maute members, the lifting of military rule still needs assessment to ensure the security of the entire region of Mindanao.

"'Yung desisyon sa pag-lift ng martial law ay hindi po sa amin sa ngayon. 'Yung desisyon na 'yan ay kailangang i-assess dahil ang kabuuan po ng Mindanao ang dapat tignan, hindi lang sa Marawi itself. May network po ito at they run the whole breadth of Mindanao," he said.