Embattled Philippine troops struggling to drive Islamist militants from a southern city raised the national flag for Independence Day yesterday, in a tearful ceremony dedicated to the scores killed during the conflict.
Thousands of Philippine soldiers, advised by US special forces, are locked in fierce combat with hundreds of insurgents who overran Marawi city on May 23, flying black flags of the Islamic State (IS) group and using up to 2 000 civilians as human shields.
As gunfire rang out and planes flew bombing raids to pummel districts of the largely abandoned city, a crowd of soldiers and teary-eyed officials, firemen, police and clerks gathered outside a government building to raise the Philippine flag.
“This is dedicated to soldiers who offered their lives to implement our mission in Marawi city,” Colonel Jose Maria Cuerpo, commander of an army brigade fighting in Marawi, said.
The annual ceremony marks the anniversary of an armed revolt against Spanish colonial rule.
All military camps and government agencies will fly their flags at half-mast today in honour of the troops killed in Marawi, military spokesman Colonel Edgard Arevalo said.
In the latest casualties, 13 Philippine marines were killed on Friday in ferocious street-to-street battles.
Fighting in the city had left a total of 58 soldiers and police and more than 20 civilians dead, the military said, estimating that almost 200 militants had been killed.
Tens of thousands have fled Marawi, which is the largely Catholic country’s most important Muslim city, since the military said its troops unexpectedly interrupted plans by the fighters to take over Marawi in a spectacular event to show that the IS had arrived in the Philippines.
President Rodrigo Duterte has said the militant attack was part of a wider plot by the IS to establish a base in the southern region of Mindanao, and has declared martial law there to quell the threat.
But the military has struggled to defeat the heavily armed gunmen, who have used hostages and pre-existing bomb-proof tunnels to entrench their positions.