No Negotiations with Terrorists: Philippines

Felipe Villamor and Froilan Gallardo
Manila and Marawi, Philippines
170706-PH-negotiations-620.jpg A Philippine army sniper looks for a target through a hole in a wall somewhere in the southern city of Marawi.
Froilan Gallardo/BenarNews

The Philippines will not negotiate with terrorists, a government spokesman said Thursday in denying a report that President Rodrigo Duterte had initially sought a meeting with leaders of an Islamic State-linked group after it occupied the southern city of Marawi.

Agakhan Sharief, a colorful local Muslim leader, was quoted in a report by Reuters on Wednesday as saying that a senior Duterte aide had asked him to use his extensive connections with leaders of the Maute group to open back-channel talks aimed at solving the crisis, which began on May 23.

“Let me be clear that the position of the Palace and the President is not to negotiate with terrorists, including these local terrorist groups, which had intended to establish a state within the Philippine state and to remove allegiance to the government of the Philippines and the Chief Executive of the City of Marawi and its residents,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella told a press briefing in Manila on Thursday.

During the early days of the siege, according to the report, Duterte wanted to speak with Omarkhayam and Abdullah Maute, two brothers who have backed up Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon in the siege that has now gone on for more than six weeks.

Hapilon is the acknowledged leader of the IS in the country and, apart from the Maute fighters, he is known to have received backing from several Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern fighters.

In late May, however, Duterte declared publicly that he would not sit down with terrorists.

On Thursday, Abella denied the claim made by Sharief, saying “we have no verified reports that there were efforts to initiate such actions as Agakhan Sharief claims.”

MILF fatwa

Responding to a reporter’s question about what may have motivated Sharief to make such a claim, Abella said, “We don’t have any opinions on his intentions or what he intended to do.”

“What we do stand on is that, as far as verifiable reports, there are none that we can state,” he said of Sharief, a respected local Muslim leader known widely as Bin Laden because of his physical similarities to the late leader of al-Qaeda.

The Marawi attack “constitutes rebellion,” Abella added, saying Maute group and Abu Sayyaf fighters espoused a “dangerous ideology” that had been rejected by most Muslims in the south, including a former rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The 10,000-strong MILF, which ended its insurgency in 2014 in favor of limited autonomy in the south, has rejected violence instigated by Maute and Abu Sayyaf fighters in Marawi. MILF leaders have issued a “fatwa,” or edict, condemning extremism in the region.

MILF declared that fatwa “against the entry and spread of violent radicalism or extremism” on Mindanao, the island that surrounds Marawi. The fatwa is the strongest condemnation yet against the actions of the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups, whose fighters still hold portions of Marawi city.

During the briefing, Abella reported that the death toll on the rebel side had reached 351, eight more than on Wednesday. There were no changes on the figures for the military and civilian deaths, at 85 and 39, respectively.


A devastated section of Marawi appears in the distance through a broken window, July 5, 2017. [Jeoffrey Maitem/BenarNews]

‘I will eat your liver’

On Wednesday, a faction of Abu Sayyaf beheaded two Vietnamese hostages on the nearby island of Basilan, in a move which, military officials said, may have been meant to distract the troops fighting in Marawi. The two were among six Vietnamese crew members of a cargo vessel abducted by the gunmen off Basilan in November.

One of the six, 28-year-old Hoang Vo, was rescued by the army after troops overran an Abu Sayyaf position in last month. Three other Vietnamese are still in captivity, along with several other foreigners held separately in Basilan and in the jungles of nearby Jolo island.

Late on Wednesday, President Duterte reacted angrily to the beheadings, warning that he could be as brutal as the gunmen.

“I will eat your liver if you want me to. Give me salt and vinegar and I will eat it in front of you,” Duterte said as he showed the public gruesome images of the beheaded hostages and cursed the militants.


A Philippine soldier walks by a gate in a neighborhood where gunmen had scribbled pro-Islamic State graffiti in the southern city of Marawi, July 5, 2017. [Jeoffrey Maitem/BenarNews]


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