UPDATE as of 12:30 am: President Duterte has decided to cut short his visit to Russia because of the situation in Marawi. He is now scheduled to leave midnight, Moscow time, and to arrive at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport at 5 pm on Wednesday, May 24, Manila time. He also imposed martial law in Mindanao for a period of 60 days.
Earlier, at around 4 pm in Moscow, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. told reporters covering the President’s Russia visit that he had been briefed about the situation in Marawi and was not planning to return earlier than planned.
“He is aware of it,” Esperon said, adding that the President’s visit to Russia will proceed as scheduled.
Esperon said the military sent reinforcements to Marawi even as he assured that the government was in control of the city.
“We have increased the deployment of troops because the points of engagement are in several places,” Esperon said.
He said Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Ano had assured him “that they are in full control of the situation.”
Esperon said that fighting began after the military launched an operation but encountered an armed group at the Amai Pakpak hospital in the city.
“The order (to the military) is to pursue. Keep pressing (but) keep in mind the safety of civilians,” he said.
A statement from the military’s Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom) said the firefight broke out at the vicinity of Barangay Basak at around 2 p.m.
The military was after Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon when members of the extremist Maute group attacked.
“At 5 pm, government forces were able to contain majority of the militants in one area. However, some of their sympathizers conducted diversionary (acts) in other locations to divide the attention of reinforcing (military) personnel,” WestMinCom said.