Duterte to Maranaos: “I am very, very, very sorry”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 21 June) — President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday asked forgiveness from Maranaos for the devastation of Marawi City, the deaths and mass displacement of its resident, explaining he had no choice but to drive the terrorists out of the country’s lone Islamic City.

“I am very, very, very sorry na nangyari ito sa atin” (that this happened to us),  he said during his visit to the evacuation center at the National School of Fisheries in Barangay Buru-un in Iligan City on Tuesday, Day 29 of the Marawi Crisis.

President Rodrigo Duterte apologizes to Maranaos for the devastation, deaths and mass displacement but explained he was left with no choice. Duterte visited an evacuation center at the Iligan City National School of Fisheries on June 20, 2017, where 229 displaced families families have taken shelter. Rey Baniquet / PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

It was his first visit to an evacuation center since clashes between government forces and the Maute Group started on May 23 and the first time he sought forgiveness for his decision to send in the troops and launch air strikes, and for declaring martial law, claiming he was left with no choice.

The country’ first President from Mindanao (his mother was from Agusan del Norte, his grandmother was a Maranao) told Maranaos he hopes they “will find a new heart to forgive my soldiers, ang gobyerno, pati ako for declaring martial law.”

“Wala akong choice eh. Sinisira na ang Marawi” (I had no choice. Marawi was being destroyed) by the Maute Group and its allied terrorist groups, he said, adding he had to “drive them out.”

“But I am very sorry. Paki-abot na lang doon sa mga kapatid nating mga Maranao na ang aking paghihinanakit rin sa nangyari na ito. (Please extend to our fellow Maranaos that I am hurt that this happened). Patawarin ninyo po kami” (Please forgive us), said the President who earlier in his speech admitted he “felt betrayed” by the Maranaos.

“I felt betrayed. Talagang nasaktan ako” (I was really hurt), he aid, claiming the people of Lanao del Sur did not bother to report to authorities that the Maute Group had been building up its forces and firepower in the city.

“Masama ang loob ko, kasi hindi naman ninyo sinabi na malakas na ang pasok (ng Maute” (I feel bad because you did not say that the terrorists have been gaining foothold in the city), he added.

Child evacuees take a nap on the floor in one of the classrooms of the Iligan City National School of Fisheries in Barangay Buruun Tuesday afternoon (6 June 2017). Thousands of Maranaos have fled Marawi because of the ongoing skirmishes between government soldiers and the Maute Group. MindaNews photo by AUBREY ROCIN LLAMAS

Duterte assured his peace processes with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) will continue. He said he understands their rebellion, their desire to have an area for self governance and would immediately attend to their concerns.

But he said he does not understand the Maute Group’s resort to violent extremism and harming in the process not just non-Muslims but fellow Muslims as well.

P20-billion rehab fund

Duterte vowed to “set aide initially P20 billion” to start rehabilitation but reiterated an earlier statement made on June 11 in Cagayan de Oro City that he will give priority to the poor because those who own buildings have money.

“Yung mga mahirap ang unahin ko.Yung may mga ari ng building, mayaman na ‘yun sa shabu. Pabentahin mo siya uli para patayin ko sila” (I will give priority to  the poor. Those who own buildings, shabu has made them rich. Let them sell shabu  again so I can kill them), the President said, as he maintained shabu money funded terrorism in Marawi.

Padian (market) about a kilometer away from Banggolo bridge. Photo by BAILABI SA MARAWI,posted by Bangsamoro News 12 June 2017

He assured evacuees (internally displaced persons) he would help them. “Huwag kayong mag-alala. Tulungan ko kayo. Hindi ko kayo pababayaan, hanggang relocation (Don’t worry, I will help you. I will not leave you until you are relocated),” the President said.

He vowed Marawi would rise from the ruins. “Gaganda ‘yan ulit, gaganda ulit ‘yan” (It will be even more beautiful. It will be more beautiful).

Duterte on June 11 said in Cagayan de Oro City that Cabinet Secreary Leoncio Evasco, Jr., will head the rehabilitation efforts in Marawi.

Apology accepted

In a statement Wednesday, the Province of Lanao del Sur accepted the President’s apology.

“We accept the apology offered by the President to the Maranao people. We understand that given the actions taken by the Maute Group against civilians and religious symbols, educational institutions, government facilities,  and heath facilities, the national leadership needed to take a very strong action,” said the province’s official statement, a copy of which was sent to MindaNews by Assemblyman Zia Alonto Adiong, spokesperson of the Provincial Crisis Management Committee.

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

The Statement said they “feel the sincerity” of the President’s apology and “applaud the genuine concern” of the President to address “the sufferings of our people over the course of this man-made crisis.”

It said they hope the President’s apology “opens the gate for a more productive dialogue between the President and our people so that the President may hear the pain, suffering and the voices of ordinary Maranaos so that he may take guidance from it in his subsequent actions.”

The statement ended with a prayer to “Almighty Allah that with His guidance and grace, our President will deliver the much needed reconstruction and rehabilitation to better Marawi City and Lanao del Sur.”

Samira Gutoc, one of the conveners of the Ranao Rescue Team, said “Islam teaches compassion, so I hear the President.”

“But the sorry is for the dead like Walid, and babies and moms who can no longer reply back. They, the dead and the trapped, surviving and civilians, they should be the ones to forgive. I who can eat and move freely am in no position to react to the President.”

Like thousands of Marawi residents, Gutoc, her family and relatives were forced to flee Marawi. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)