By Ted Tuvera
and Mario J. Mallari
President Duterte said he will give the Maute group hell if it won’t stop its acts of terrorism as he dropped an earlier plan to negotiate with the Islamic militants who have associated themselves with the international terrorist group Islamic State (IS).
Duterte said he is still restraining himself from violence toward the Islamic militants but he added that the moment for him to be harsh against the group is approaching fast.
“There has to be a timeline. It could be forever. It could be during my term. It could be beyond my term. But there is a certain limit. And when that limit comes, I’ll have to deal with you harshly,” Duterte said in a speech at the 103rd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army Headquarters in Butig, Lanao del Sur.
“I do not want to mention anything but please do not force my hand into it. I do not want it because when the time comes it’s going to be a war against terrorism and drugs. And I would tell you now: I will be as harsh I can ever be,” the Commander in Chief strongly stressed.
The Maute Group, which also goes by the name Dawlah Islamiya or ‘Islamic State’, occupied an abandoned portion of Butig last Friday.
In a chance interview with reporters in Cagayan de Oro City, Duterte said that he has ordered state troopers to continue its punitive actions against the Maute Group.
“They have to go on with the operation. What is there to stop Nobody shows sincerity in them, so the fight goes on,” the President said.
“I told them (Maute) that they have to stop. I hope we don’t have to reach the point of war. So I am doing everything to prevent war,” he added.
Duterte said he is threatened by the Maute’s affiliation with the IS.
“You know that the Maute is inspired by the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria which is another name for IS) that spells trouble for our lives,” he said.
In a speech last Monday in Malacañang, Duterte bared intelligence reports confirming the Maute group’s affiliation with the IS.
“The intelligence community advised me that ISIS is finally connected with the group in the Philippines called the Maute. There is a waging war now in Lanao,” Duterte said.
No talks for now
Duterte said while he is willing to “befriend” the terrorist Maute group, he will not do it now.
In his visit to wounded members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) at the 4th Infantry Division Army hospital in Cagayan de Oro City, Duterte said he is not yet prepared to deal with the self-proclaimed IS-connected bandits allegedly responsible for the ambush of his security aides in Marawi City last Tuesday morning.
“I am not ready to talk to Maute group, but I can tell them I do not want to engage in a war,” Duterte said, adding that he feels that the militants are not taking suggestions of negotiations seriously.
The President, the other day, said he wanted to “make friends with Maute, so as to avoid fighting”.
In an earlier press briefing at the Palace, Presidential Communications Office (PCO) Assistant Secretary Kris Ablan said that the President is “not joking” when he said that he is open to negotiating with the terrorist group.
“When the President expressed that opinion, he merely wanted to express his desire to exhaust all legal ways and proper ways of achieving peace and order,” Ablan said.
But as to when the friendly negotiations will roll, Ablan said that there’s no official offer made to the bandits yet.
An improvised explosive device (IED) injured seven members of the Presidential Security Guards (PSG) and two regular military escorts along Sitio Matalupay in Marawi City at 10:45 a.m. on Tuesday which is two hours short in travelling by land to Maute’s base.
The Maute group gained national attention after occupying an abandoned portion of Butig town, Lanao del Sur last Friday morning.
Duterte’s visit to military troops operating against the Maute terror group right at the combat zone in Lanao del Sur, obviously gave the morale of the government forces a boost.
Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., spokesman of the military’s Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) said Duterte visited the Army’s Tactical Command Post in Lumbayanague town, only eight kilometers from Butig where intense clashes are still ongoing between government troops and the Maute terror group.
“The troops are very happy. His visit clearly showed that he supports our soldiers fighting for peace,” said Tan.
On Tuesday, the President’s advance party from the Presidential Security Group (PSG) and Radion Television-Malacanang (RTVM) were hit by a roadside bomb believed to have been planted by sympathizers of the Maute group.
Nine soldiers were wounded during the bomb attack.
As of press time yesterday, Tan said that government forces are slowly flushing out members of the Maute terror group at their stronghold in Poblacion, Butig.
“We now have about 85 to 90 percent of the Poblacion,” said Tan.
Casualties from both sides continued to grow as Tan reported yesterday that a total of 35 soldiers have been wounded in action since the clashes erupted last Friday.
On the other hand, Tan claimed that 61 members of the Maute group were killed while 12 others were wounded.
“Our operations will continue relentlessly,” vowed Tan.
Last Friday, elements of the Maute group occupied the abandoned town hall in Poblacion, Butig –prompting the military to launch intensified operations against the group.
The Maute group even raised the “Black flag” of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria at the abandoned government building –apparently to highlight its links with the ISIS.
Military troops have successfully retaken the old Butig municipal hall from the clutches of the Maute Group around 9:20 a.m. Wednesday.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo said that operations are still ongoing to recover the portion of Butig town being held by the enemy.
“We have successfully retaken the (old Butig municipal hall) so far, if we are going to talk about the 100 completion of the task in fully retaking and recovering that portion of Butig they are occupying, we are still at 80 percent,” he added.
Military units are now clearing the building of improvised explosive device left behind by the bandits.
Troops are now clearing these battlefield hazards, Arevalo stressed.
The terrorists opted to withdraw from their positions in the old Butig municipal hall amid overwhelming military superiority.
The bandits have retreated to their fallback positions in deserted areas of the town where military troops are now engaged in flushing them out.
As of this posting, 61 Maute Group members were killed while 35 government troops were wounded in action in the now five-day operation.