Duterte welcomes probe on possible abuses by gov’t forces in Marawi siege

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/30 October) – President Rodrigo R. Duterte said he welcomes any investigation on abuses the police and military may have committed during the conduct of operations against the Islamic State-inspired Maute Group in Marawi City.

He said he holds himself solely responsible for what happened during the five-month conflict that displaced hundreds of thousands of people and destroyed a large part of the city.

The view of what used to be the war zone in this photograph taken on October 26, 2017 from the other side of Lake Lanao: bombed-out buildings, houses and mosques, evident of the fierce fighting and relentless bombings against the Maute Group and its allies from May 23 to October 23, 2017. MindaNews photo by FROILAN GALLARDO

Duterte was reacting to a question concerning the plan of some Marawi residents to file a class suit against him for the destruction of the city.

“Yes. It’s well within their rights to do that,” the President said during the media briefing before leaving for Japan from Davao City Sunday.

“I agree with you that if you have a gripe, and you think that justice should be done, and if they think that the Philippine courts would be prejudiced or biased, they can always go to the International Criminal Court,” he added.

He said he declared martial law in Mindanao last May 23, the same day the siege erupted, to “answer the challenges of the moment and I take full legal, criminal, and civil liability.”

He said the military and police will study how “it evolved and how to fight a new war” should another threat of urban terrorism arise.

Citing the experience of some countries in the Middle East, he said the concrete high-rise buildings made it difficult for the government forces to eliminate the terrorists.

“That’s why in — it is a — a universal fact that in the Middle East, it took them one year, two years to do it. It’s because there is always a high-rise building, where you can position yourself comfortably while waiting for the kill, and I said, in penetrating a lot of almost indestructible cover,” he said.

The deaths of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, the so-called emir of ISIS in Southeast Asia, and Omar Maute on October 16 marked the end of the five-month siege that saw the military use both air and ground assets.

The view from Ground Zero along Quezon Avenue, fronting the C & D Building. beside the Bato Ali Mosque along Quezon Avenue, on 25 October 2017. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

“Now that combat operations have been terminated, we are rebuilding Marawi to its former glory. From its ruins, Marawi shall once again rise as the center of moderation and tolerance in Muslim Mindanao,” Duterte said.

He said the country will seek Japan’s assistance in the rehabilitation of Marawi, emphasizing that the failure to rehabilitate the city “could have grave consequences for Mindanao and for the entire country.”

“I think the damage alone and the dimension of the destruction, we would tell Japan that we need their very best in their assistance. And I do not doubt that Japan can graciously give us the help that we — of course, we do not expect that Japan would solve all the problems for us. But I — I would see significant assistance, considering, I said, the dimension of the destruction,” he said. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)