The day before, special forces from the elite Scout Rangers killed militant leaders Isnilon Hapilon, former head of the Abu Sayyaf group and Daesh leader in Southeast Asia, and Omar Maute, co-founder of the Maute group, which has pledged allegiance to Daesh.
The fighting began in May when the Philippines army and police launched a joint operation in Marawi to capture Hapilon, and the militants counter-attacked. More than 1,000 people have died, mostly militants but including 162 soldiers and police officers and 47 civilians, and more than 300,000 villagers have been displaced from their homes.
“I hereby declare Marawi City liberated from the terrorist influence that marks the beginning of the rehabilitation,” Duterte told soldiers in a speech on Tuesday.
Army chief Gen. Eduardo Ano said the death of Hapilon and Omar was a blow to Daesh.
“We have shown the world that there is no place for any Daesh here in the Philippines. We will not allow it,” he said.
“The death of these two leaders and the neutralization of more than 800 Maute-Daesh members have destroyed their infrastructure and organization here, so this should make other Daesh foreign fighters planning to come here to think twice. We are prepared for them.”
Despite the official declaration that Marawi has been liberated, about 30 militants remain in the city, holding at least 20 hostages.
The remaining fighters include Mahmud Ahmad, a Malaysian professor who has been in the Philippines since 2014 and is expected to replace Hapilon as the local Daesh leader. Ahmad is thought to have channeled about $600,000 from Daesh to pay for weapons and food for militants during the Marawi fighting.
Philippines military chief admitted that the war was “not completely over,” but Ano said: “The small number of the remaining enemy ... does not constitute a serious threat.
“What remains now is mopping up operations against Maute-Daesh stragglers in a small area,” Año said, and the government would now begin damage assessment before rehabilitation and reconstruction.
Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla, the military spokesman, said: “The remaining enemy force is no longer a force to reckon with,” and clearing operations were underway “to finish them off should they decide to continue the fight. Major operations have been concluded.”
Another military spokesman, Col. Edgard Arevalo, said any remaining fighters were “stragglers — leaderless and in disarray. We have significantly degraded their tactical capability and under no circumstances will they be able to reverse the situation that has rendered them defeated.”