The fate of a Filipino Catholic priest and 40 hostages taken captive by Islamic militants in May remains uncertain despite reports that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have taken control of the grand mosque in Marawi, a the last remaining rebel stronghold.
The AFP has also retaken the city’s Catholic cathedral, St Mary's, seized by the IS-inspired Maute group on 23 May.
Footage released by the AFP on 25 August show bullet-ridden and fragments of destroyed icons scattered on the floor. The altar is largely demolished and a beheaded figure is the only statue left standing inside the complex.
Rebels have withdrawn from the police station, which they held during three months of fighting, said Colonel Romeo Brawner, deputy commander the military task force overseeing operations against the militants.
Military officials described the retaking of the mosque, the police station and 29 other structures as a "significant victory". Three government soldiers died during a battle for the mosque, the local military report.
Officials have not commented on the fate of Father Teresito ‘Chito’ Soganub, vicar-general of the Prelature of Marawi, and the 40 other hostages.
In an interview with Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need, earlier this month Bishop Edwin dela Peña of Marawi disclosed draft plans for reconstruction and rehabilitation work in the city.
Asked whether there were definite plans already to rebuild the cathedral, Bishop dela Peña replied, “[M]ore than the cathedral, what is more important is to restore the Christian community and its good relations with Muslims living in Marawi.”
Wearing a military uniform, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte visited Marawi on 24 August.
Duterte toured villages already controlled by government troops and later handed out cash rewards and gift packs to soldiers.
A video released by the president's communications office showed his convoy weaving through streets full of bomb craters and destroyed buildings.
"The counter-insurgency campaign will not stop until the last terrorist is neutralised," Duterte said during the video clip. He again linked the upsurge in extremism with the trade in illegal drugs.
He added that his government would not hold talks with the IS-inspired group.
PICTURE: Duterte visits government troops in Marawi