Duterte: I don’t talk to terrorists
President Duterte on Thursday denied that he tried to make a deal with Islamic State-inspired terrorists in the days after they laid siege to Marawi City.
Mr. Duterte also dismissed as a “pretender” Marawi community leader Agakhan Sharief, who told the news organization Reuters on Wednesday that days after the terrorists seized the city, a senior aide to the President approached him and asked him to use his connections with the terrorists’ leaders to start back-channel talks.
“No, I did not. He’s a pretender. I never talk to terrorists. That’s one. I will never talk to criminals and to terrorists but I would talk to revolutionaries who are imbued with principle like the (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) or the (Moro National Liberation Front),” Mr. Duterte told reporters in Malaybalay, Bukidnon province.
He said the MILF and the MNLF might have initiated back-channel talks to resolve the crisis in Marawi, but it was “impossible” for him to do that.
“And many of my soldiers have died, including policemen. Do not kid me that we will talk,” Mr. Duterte said.
“If there has to be peace, it would really be peace. Do not play with me that we fight today and then tomorrow … Let us finish this once and for all,” he said.
Reuters reported Sharief as saying Mr. Duterte aborted the plan for back-channel talks without an explanation.
It said two other Marawi sources familiar with the matter confirmed Mr. Duterte had worked behind the scenes to hold talks with the leaders of the Maute terrorist group, brothers Omarkhayam and Abdullah Maute, that seized parts of Marawi on May 23, aided by members of a faction of the Abu Sayyaf bandit group led by Isnilon Hapilon, who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group based in the Middle East.
But the process was halted when Mr. Duterte, in a May 31 speech, declared he would “not talk to terrorists,” Reuters said.
Mr. Duterte’s about-face came five days after another televised speech in which he told the terrorists “we can still solve this through dialogue,” but if he could not convince them of that, “so be it. Let’s just fight.”
“The problem with our President, his mind is changing always,” Reuters quoted Sharief as saying. “He announced that he will no longer talk to terrorists and that made our negotiations cut.”
Known in Lanao del Sur as “Bin Laden” due to his resemblance to the late al-Qaida leader, Sharief is a cleric who has had roles in various peace agreements in long-restive Mindanao, Reuters said.
Sharief, it said, would not disclose the identity of Mr. Duterte’s aide, whom he said was confidentially assigned to set up a meeting with the Maute clan.
He said the aide agreed that Sharief would accompany the Maute brothers’ influential mother, Farhana, by helicopter to meet Mr. Duterte in nearby Cagayan de Oro or Davao City.
Sharief said her sons requested Farhana to represent them in the talks.
“He (Mr. Duterte’s aide) prepared everything that I needed. I told him that I need a chopper to get the mother of the Maute brothers to bring her to the President. He prepared that,” Sharief said.
“I called the Maute brothers and their mother … I told them, I convinced them,” he said.
Sharief said Mr. Duterte was prepared to offer the Mautes implementation of Sharia law in their hometown, Butig, if he achieved his goal of establishing a federal system in the Philippines.
Reuters said it could not independently verify that such a proposal had been made.
The talks with the Mautes fell through and Farhana was arrested in Masiu, Lanao del Sur, on June 9.
The Mautes’ father, Cayamora, was arrested three days earlier in Davao City.
Sharief said the Mautes would have taken Mr. Duterte’s deal to end the siege, Reuters said.
“They agreed, they supported this,” Sharief said.
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