‘No Satisfaction’ in Winning Marawi Fight, Duterte Says

Felipe Villamor and Jeoffrey Maitem
2017.06.27
Manila and Marawi, Philippines
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170627_PH_IS_1000.jpg Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gives a speech during Eid al-Fitr celebrations at the Malacanang Palace in Manila, June 27, 2017.
AFP

A cousin of President Rodrigo Duterte was killed fighting with Islamic State-inspired militants in Marawi, the Philippine leader said Tuesday, vowing to drive the gunmen out of the southern city they seized more than a month ago.

Addressing an Eid al-Fitr dinner at the presidential palace – his first public appearance in a week – Duterte vowed to crush fighters from the Maute gang of militants and Abu Sayyaf group who turned the lakeside city of 200,000 into a battlefield.

“If they went to a forested area there, claimed a particular mountain, three mountains, and took the fight there, I could have forgiven them. But because of what they did, this Maute and ISIS, there will be no quarters given and no quarters asked,” Duterte said, using another acronym for the so-called Islamic State (IS).

“I derive no satisfaction even in winning the war. I just wanted this thing over, and those – these radicals, extremists – out of the Muslim world here,” he said, apologizing for damage sustained to the city during efforts to dislodge the militants.

The tough-talking 72-year-old native of the southern city of Davao underlined a personal connection to the conflict, which has killed 290 gunmen, 70 soldiers and 27 civilians, according to the latest government figures.

“I have cousins who joined the Mautes, in case you didn’t know. Because they were there, a cousin of mine died. They went there, in a truck,” Duterte said without elaborating about when the incident took place.

‘Negotiation is not possible’

Earlier Tuesday, the Philippine government flatly rejected a demand by the gunmen to free the parents of the Maute brothers in exchange for a Catholic priest held in Marawi for the past five weeks.

Jesus Dureza, a senior adviser to Duterte, said giving in to the demand was tantamount to surrendering to the militants who have laid siege to southern Marawi city since May 23.

“We don’t negotiate with terrorists. It is not possible,” Dureza told BenarNews by phone. “If we give in to their demands, it would seem they also terrorize us. So a negotiation is not possible.”

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said talks held on Sunday by a senior Muslim leader were not sanctioned by government or the military.

“Any demand made inside, therefore, holds no basis,” Abella told reporters. ”Government’s policy not to negotiate with terrorists remains.”

Violence broke out when police and troops, acting on an intelligence lead, moved to arrest Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, who was spotted in Marawi.

They were met by a significant enemy force that included members of a local Muslim gang led by brothers Omarkhayam and Abdullah Maute, whose group had been blamed for a series of attacks including the bombing of a night market in Davao that left 15 dead in September 2016.

Foreign fighters from Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and the Middle East were also in the area.

Priest Teresito Soganub and some other church workers were taken hostage by militants at the start of the siege. He went on air shortly afterward, apparently under duress, and appealed to the government to stop its airstrikes on rebel-held areas in Marawi.

A BenarNews source who met with the gunmen over the weekend said militant leader Abdullah Maute told him Soganub was alive but would only be freed in exchange for the release of his parents.

The Maute parents, Cayamora and Farhana, were arrested separately as they fled the violence in Marawi. They are kept apart under tight guard.

‘Sex slaves’

On Tuesday, spokesman Abella said unverified intelligence information indicated that Hapilon may have “left Marawi and abandoned his group.”

“Granting that this is true, it would be a clear sign of his cowardice because he abandoned his companions and has run away from the battle.”

He said it would also indicate the enemy group was riddled with infighting among its ranks, and that “It may be a matter of time before they disintegrate or self-destruct.”

But he refused to say where the intelligence information came from and why troops have not been able to advance significantly if the enemy ranks are in disarray.

On Tuesday, the military insisted it was winning the fight, which comes as Duterte is marking one year in office. However, military spokesman Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera said gunmen were still holding parts of the city.

“We are winning in the battle as manifested in war materials discovered daily. The (military) is winning and the victory is irreversible. We appeal to everyone to continue to support and pray for our troops,” Herrera said in Marawi.

Herrerra also told a press conference that some hostages held by the gunmen had been forced to convert to Islam and marry Maute group militants – claims that could not be independently verified.

“They are being forced to be sex slaves, forced to destroy the dignity of these women,” Herrera said, citing Marawi residents who escaped or were rescued.

To date, the military has recovered at least 360 high-powered firearms, ammunition and improvised bombs. It has also regained control of about 85 buildings earlier occupied by the gunmen.

“Our offensives operations ... will continue so we can liberate Marawi,” he said. “We are preparing to assists local officials for the rehabilitation, reconstruction and rebuilding phase of Marawi.”

Froilan Gallardo in Iligan City contributed to this report.

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