BUTIG, Lanao del Sur (MindaNews / 30 Nov) – Flanked by his generals, President Rodrigo Duterte offered the Maute terror group as well as the maverick leader of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in this province the olive branch of peace.
Duterte said talking peace is better than waging war that would affect the Moro people, his strong supporters in the past elections, and the rest of the country.
“It is easy to start a war but it would be harder to end the fighting,” Duterte told soldiers gathered at the Tactical Command Post of the Army’s 103rd Infantry Brigade here.
Close supporters of Duterte told MindaNews that they are looking for avenues of communication to the Maute group and MILF commander Abduhrahman Macapaar alias Commander Bravo.
President Duterte said he tried to communicate with the Maute group but realized the rebels were determined to establish a caliphate in Mindanao in pursuance with goals of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
He said the group has terrorized the residents of Butig by engaging in carjacking, kidnapping and harvesting their agricultural products.
As for Bravo, Duterte said he received information that the MILF commander is also engaged in kidnappings and providing protection to drug syndicates.
“I have been trying to talk to him since the beginning but he has become intransigence. It appears he is losing hope in the government,” Duterte said.
He ignored threats and the critical situation in Butig to come here and visit the troops fighting the Maute group for the past two weeks.
Last Monday, seven personnel of the Presidential Security Group and two other soldiers from another Army unit were wounded when roadside bombs hit their military convoy in Barangay Matampay, Marawi City.
Duterte said this kind of violence should end but he warned the Maute group and Bravo that there is a timetable for his gesture of peace.
“I can be harsh. Right now the fight will be against drugs and terrorism,” he said.
Col. Roseller Murillo, commander of the 103rd Infantry Brigade, said President Duterte left it to the field commanders the decision to continue the operation against the Maute group.
Murillo said they have retaken two-thirds of the town of Butig where previously the Maute group roamed at will.
He said the fighting is now beside the mountains near the MILF’s Camp Palestine in Butig.
The MILF, following the ceasefire protocol, have withdrawn its fighters from Camp Palestine to avoid a misencounter with government troops.
The two-week old fighting has forced the evacuation of 2,450 families or 12,500 persons from eight barangays in Butig.
Butig Mayor Dimnatang Pansar said many of the evacuees are living with their relatives in Marawi City and adjoining towns. (Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)