Duterte: Maute Group’s firepower could match AFP’s

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 17 June) — President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday said the Marawi Crisis was not a case of failure of intelligence but a case of connivance of politicians and warlords who allowed the Maute Group to stockpile firearms and ammunition in Marawi City that “could match even the firepower of the Armed Forces (of the Philippines).”

As the Marawi Crisis entered Day 26 on Saturday, Duterte told reporters in Butuan City, that the Maute Group does not seem to run out of bullets (“walang kaubus-ubusan ang bala”), conceding that the government’s only advantage is its air assets “pero on the ground, they (Maute Group) do not run out of bullets.”

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte salutes officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the 4th Infantry Division upon his arrival at the Division’x Advance command Post in Butuan City on June 17, 2017. ROBINSON NIÑAL JR./PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

He did not name the politicians or warlords. But two former mayors were among those named in Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s Arrest Orders No. 1 and 2, one of them, Fajad Umpar Salic, arrested at a checkpoint in Villanueva, Misamis Oriental at around 7:30 p.m. on June 7.

Addressing soldiers of the 401st Brigade under the 4th Infantry Divisions’ advance command post in Bancasi, Butuan City, Duterte acknowledged that government “adopted a very soft policy towards rebels” in view of the peace processes with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Some of those bearing arms, he said, would claim they were from the MILF or MNLF and the standing order to government security forces was to talk with them to avoid trouble.

“We took it (issue on firearms) for granted” because “we never knew at that time kung sino ba talaga ang kalaban. Yun bang mga politiko na nag-aaway. nagri-rido sila or itong mga private armies ng politicians” (who among them are fighting. Was it the politicians involved in rido or the private armies of these politicians?).

Duterte noted that the Maute Group took advantage of the situation by “bringing firearms surreptitiously” into Marawi City.

“All the while, itong Maute, with the connivance of the politicians there, ‘yung mga warlords, were stockpiling. Kaya ni hindi maubos ‘yung M-203 na bala at napakarami (That is why they don’t run out of M-203 grenade launchers. They have so many).

Government fires one, they will fire back five, Duterte said of the seemingly “endless supply when Maute rose to fight against government.”

He estimated the military build-up of the Maute Group in Marawi at around three years.

Later, Duterte told reporters that politicians provided the Maute Group money to buy these arms “but what fueled yung gyera talaga dito sa Marawi is the drug money of the Maute.”

Members of the Maute Group take control of various areas in Marawi City on May 23, 2017. Photo courtesy of CHICO DIMARO USMAN

MindaNews sources in Marawi said it is no secret that families store firearms in their houses and  terrorists could easily add up to their firepower by using the firearms inside the houses and buildings inside the conflict zone.

Duterte told his troops that the Maute Group was merely waiting for a “bikil,” a reason for them to  fire back and that reason was the service of the warrant of arrest against Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon on May 23.

He refers to the foreign fighters in Marawi City as a “conglomeration of ISIS fighters from Syria, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Arabs.”

Duterte announced the Marawi Crisis was “winding up but at the cost of so many soldiers also.”

ABS-CBN News Channel on Saturday reported the deployment of 400 Iloilo-based soldiers bound for Marawi.

At least 59 government forces and 300 others injured as of  June 15, according to military spokespersons. At least 26 civilians were reported killed by the terrorists. The military claimed at least 225 terrorists have been killed and 208 of their firearms seized.

As of 6 p.m. June 15, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) reported a total of 332,582 person (68,109 families) displaced by armed conflict in Marawi, most of them from 95 of 96 barangays in Marawi.

The President and commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines warned soldiers to watch out for these terrorists because “mahirap kalabanin yun taong gustong mamatay” (it’s difficult to fight somebody who wants to die).

Violent extremists, he said, have “so corrupted the name of God in the form  of religion to kill mainly innocent persons and to destroy for nothing.”

He told reporters the Maute Group “was already infiltrated by the ISIS” and that they are in Marawi to “kill, kill, kill for no reason at all, to destroy, burn, pillage, rampage, for no reason at all.”

He said Marawi’s leaders knew there was already a military buildup on the pat of the Maute Group and should have reported it to authorities.

He said traditional political leaders and the moderates who do not want Marawi turned into a wasteland are desperate to end the crisis but “I am not apologizing for anything there because they brought the problem to themselves.”

Smoke envelopes a portion of downtown Marawi City after a military chopper dropped three 200-lb bombs at noon on Wednesday (14 June 2017). Government forces and members of the ISIS-inspired Maute Group have been fighting for control of the city since May 23. MindaNews photo by H. Marcos C. Mordeno

He asked why they did not report the military build up and the presence of foreigners to the police and the Armed Forces.

He said there is no need for traditional leaders to seek permission to negotiate with the Mautes to end the hostilities but he asked, “to talk about what? Surrender? O ano lang, areglo? Ganon na lang?” (To make arrangements? Just like that?)

“Paano yung patay ko? (How about my dead?) How about the murderous rampage ….  ‘yung natamaan ng mga sniper nila? (those hit by their snipers?) They committed the crime of rebellion and there is the flag of ISIS. If that is not enough, what is it?” Duterte added.

Duterte declared martial law in all of Mindanao’s 27 provinces and 33 citieis as of 10 p.m. on May 23, hours after the clashes started. At that time, three government forces had been killed — two soldiers and a police officer — and 12 others injured.

Asked by reporters in Butuan City if he would extend martial law beyond the 60-day period allowed by the 1987 Constitution, Duterte replied: “hindi matatapos yang martial law hanggang hindi matapos yang putukan” (martial law will not end if the firefight does not end.) Until I am satisfied or we are satisfied that not a single shot will be fired ever again” and their firearms crushed by a bulldozer.

He said if the Supreme Court rules that he had no factual basis to declare martial law, “then okay, I will withdraw” but if anything goes wrong and he declares martil law a second time around, “hindi na ako makinig maski kanino” (I won’t listen to anyone anymore).

“But if that rebellion burns Mindanao and the other parts of the Philippines, and I will be forced to declare martial law again, this time, I will do it on my own to preserve my nation. I will not consult anybody and there is no telling when it will end. Wala na. Basta… then it could be a copycat of Marcos,” Duterte said.

Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. was elected President in 1965 and was re-elected in 1969 for another four-year term that would end in 1973. He declared martial law in September 1972, did a “paper lifting” of martial law in early 1981 but continued to rule until he was ousted by People Power in February 1986. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)