by Mike Crismundo and Argyll Cyrus Geducos
Butuan City — The government is in control of the 96 urban and rural barangays in war-torn Marawi City and is now focusing on the remaining portions of the city’s four barangays where an estimated 100 members of the Maute terror group are still hiding.
This was disclosed by Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, spokesman of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) late Saturday afternoon who also revealed that the ground troops already recovered several firearms, cache of live ammunition, communication facilities, and computers left by the Maute terror group in the war zone.
President Duterte, who ended his five-day private time by visiting troops in Barangay Bancasi, Butuan City, Saturday afternoon, said that the Marawi siege was not a result of failure of intelligence but admitted that the government has become soft when it comes to dealing with rebels.
The President said the Maute group was able to stock up on their arms and ammunition before challenging the government by laying siege in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur, on May 23.
“It was not a question of failure on the part of the government. We have adopted a very soft policy towards rebels,” he stressed.
“This came about because nagdadala sila ng baril eh (They were bringing firearms). And since we are thinking of getting peace with the MNLF and MILF, ang laro ng armas diyan (the existence of firearms there), we took it for granted,” Duterte said, referring to the Moro rebel groups Moro Islamic and Moro National Liberation Fronts.
Padilla declined to divulge the number of combat maneuvering troops now penetrating the four barangays in Marawi City as tactical movement is still ongoing.
He also did not give the exact number of casualties on the side of the Maute terror group and even from the government forces as fighting, which is now on its 28th day, still rages.
“We don’t want to give you the numbers for the meantime and probably after clearing operations, we can already determine the exact figures,” he said.
He said air strikes will continue to cripple the remaining enemy positions and also to protect the troops on the ground.
Padilla also said ground commanders are verifying reports that the three Maute brothers were reportedly killed during the clashes. “We are still assessing and validating these reports as of this time,” he said.
“Masigasig ang ating mga sundalo na matapos na ito, we’re nearing to a conclusion” he said, but refused to give the timeline to newsmen when the Marawi crisis will end.
The AFP spokesman also reiterated that the AFP is not blocking relief goods going to various evacuation centers in Lanao. “Our ground troops never blocked convoy delivering relief goods to Marawi evacuees,” he said.
Padilla and AFP Public Affairs Office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo were with other top AFP and PNP officials when President Rodrigo Duterte, accompanied by Defense Secretary Delfin Lrorenzana, visited the officers and men of the AFP and PNP at Camp Bancasi here late Saturday afternoon, June 16, 2017.
FAILURE OF INTELLIGENCE
President Duterte disclosed that the Maute group was surreptitiously bringing firearms into Marawi City that the government was not able to keep count.
The President also said that the siege was not a failure of intelligence because in case Maute members were seen bearing firearms and pretended to be members of the MILF or MNLF, the standing order was to try and talk to them to avoid trouble.
He also said that this enabled the Maute group to stock up on their arms and ammunition in Marawi City.
“But all the while, itong (the) Maute, with the connivance of politicians there, were stockpiling,” Duterte said, adding that the group was just waiting for a reason and the right timing to stage their attack.
“Kaya hindi maubos ang mga bala at napakarami. Magputok ng isa ang gobyerno, ang ibabalik sa atin lima (That’s why it seems like they are not running out of ammunition. We fire once, they return it five times),” he said.
“So parang (it was like an) endless supply when Maute rose to fight the government,” he continued.
Duterte also said that there is a conglomeration of Islamic State (ISIS) fighters in Marawi City coming from Syria, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Saudi Arabia.
“The fighting is going on, it is winding up but at the cost of so many soldiers also. And that is the danger of Maute and ISIS. Bantay kayo diyan. Mahirap kalabanin ‘yung taong gustong mamatay (Watch out for that. It’s hard to fight with people who want to die),” he said.
Duterte also confirmed intelligence reports on terrorists killing anyone who does not practice the religion of Islam.
“They have so corrupted the name of God in a form of religion to kill many innocent persons and to destroy for nothing,” he added.
The Chief Executive said the government is ready to find the root of the problem and finish it even if it means using all available resources.
“We have to use the air assets now because we are up against fighters, nanggaling ‘yan diyan sa Middle East (who came from the Middle East), and learned the art of brutal killing,” he said.
“Susunugin ka, putulan ka ng ulo, kung anu-ano. ‘Pag hinayaan natin ‘yan na ganoon, patay ang Pilipino (They will torch you, behead you, anything. If we let them, then the Filipino will die),” he added.
According to Duterte, Islam is welcome in the country but warned about ideology which came from the Middle East.
“We welcome Islam. [Pero] Itong Islam na imported ang ideology galing ng Middle East, anak na ng–talagang huwag tayong magpauna dito (But the Islam with ideology imported from the Middle East–we should not let that enter),” Duterte said.
“Mauna na lang tayo (Let’s just get ahead of them first) and let’s just resolve the problem or problems afterwards, we can discuss it,” he added.
Duterte also said that he will not be making any apologies for the ongoing conflict in Marawi as the citizens brought the problems on themselves.
This came after some Maranao and traditional leaders in Marawi and Lanao del Sur asked the President if they may be allowed to negotiate with the Mautes to end the hostilities.
According to Duterte, the leaders don’t need his permission as they brought the problem upon themselves when they chose not to report the situation to the authorities early on.
“You do not need my permission to do that. Ang problema kasi nito (The problem here is), little did they realize that they are dealing with ISIS already,” the President said.
“I am not apologizing for anything there because they brought the problem on themselves. Bakit hindi nila sinabi sa pulis, sa akin, sa Armed Forces na may mga foreign trade na pabalik-balik ‘yan (Why didn’t they report to the authorities or to me that there were foreign elements going back and forth in the city),” he added.
But if it were up to him, Duterte reiterated that he will not negotiate with the terrorists as the war has already resulted in the death of 59 government troopers.
“If they go to the Maute to talk about what? Surrender? O ano lang, areglo? Ganon na lang (or negotiate? Then what? That’s it)?” Duterte asked.
“Paano ‘yung patay ko (How about the the government troops who have died)? How about the murderous rampage of — ‘yung natamaan ng mga sniper nila (those who were hit by their snipers)?
INMATES SKIP MEAL
KIDAPAWAN CITY, North Cotabato — Inmates at the district jail here skipped one meal to be able to raise funds to buy relief goods for evacuees displaced by the ongoing conflict in Marawi City.
Jail warden Supt. Simeon Dolojo, said more than 1,400 inmates of the Kidapawan district jail here decided to skip their one meal ration and were able to raise some P28,000 out of their P20 per meal allocation which was used to purchase rice, noodles and sardines which they repacked as relief goods.
The relief goods will be delivered to the regional office of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology in Koronadal City which will send the relief goods to Marawi City. (With a report from Joseph Jubelag)