Duterte to Maute: Surrender or face wrath
LUMBAYANAGUE, Lanao del Sur—President Duterte on Wednesday warned the Maute group to give up peacefully, or face a “harsher” military response as he rallied the troops engaged in weeklong clashes that have left dozens of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)-linked gunmen dead.
The President said his trip was not aimed at waging war against the Moro people in general, even as the military was pounding on the Maute group, which has laid siege to parts of the remote town of Butig, in Lanao del Sur province.
The Maute group has been blamed for the September bombing that left 15 dead in President Duterte’s hometown of Davao City, and for a purported bomb attempt near the US Embassy in Manila this week. The President has linked the group to ISIS militants waging war elsewhere in the world.
“For those who fight the government, don’t wait for the hands of the clock to reach the 25th hour and the bells will toll. I can be harsh so I could command obedience as I can, and I am not afraid,” Mr. Duterte said in a speech before troops here.
If the Maute group continued to resist, then he would be “harsh,” President Duterte warned.
“As harsh I can ever be,” Mr. Duterte warned.
On the other hand, he said he didn’t want “a war against my fellow countrymen” because it would be difficult to stop the conflict.
“You know I love you. Please help. I hope we will have a middle ground,” he said, apparently addressing the Moro people.
President Duterte said the only way to end the hostilities was to talk peacefully and thresh out problems.
“This problem cannot be solved by bravery but there is always a time to protect everybody,” he said.
The President flew here to talk with ground commanders and soldiers as the military continued to battle Maute group members, who had taken parts of Butig since Thursday last week.
Maj. Felimon Tan, the spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command based in Zamboanga City, said the military had already recovered 85 to 90 percent of the areas occupied by the local terror group.
Tan did not specify which areas had already been cleared following days of intense bombardment using air and ground assets, but added that 61 Maute group members had died since Thursday. He said 12 other gang members had been wounded while the military suffered 35 injuries as of Wednesday.
After visiting the troops, Duterte flew to Cagayan de Oro City, where he visited soldiers wounded in the Butig clashes and members of the Presidential Security Group, who were injured in Tuesday’s explosion during a reported ambush in Marawi City.
The President also pinned medals to those wounded in the Butig clashes.
In a brief talk with reporters, Duterte said he was alarmed at the Marawi incident, even as he held out hope that the rebels would be flushed out soon and a total war averted.
“I’m not trying to scare them but do not force my hand to do it,” he said.
He said the military was prepared to dig in for the long haul, contradicting a statement made earlier this week by a presidential aide who said he was “mulling the idea” of sitting down with the Maute group.
“They have to go on with the operation,” the President said. What is there to stop? Nobody is showing their sincerity there. So the fight goes on,” he stressed. —REPORTS FROM RICHEL UMEL, JIGGER JERUSALEM, JULIE ALIPALA AND MARLON RAMOS