Duterte sees end of Marawi crisis by December
DAVAO CITY — The Marawi crisis should end soon so that the government can deal with other problems that could erupt into bigger troubles, President Rodrigo Duterte said on Saturday.
Mr. Duterte was referring to the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, whose members are becoming restive over the delay in the passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law in Congress.
“I have until the end of the year to contain this thing,” Mr. Duterte told reporters here late on Saturday after attending the birthday celebration of Davao City Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles.
“You know, the Marawi [crisis] is ending. What’s prolonging it is our effort to save the lives of everybody, including the terrorists if possible. I objected, I ruled out the bombing of mosques because destroying that could mean the destruction of what’s in the soul of Muslims everywhere,” he said.
Mr. Duterte said targeting the mosques could also put the lives of the hostages at risk.
The military said last week the Maute and Abu Sayyaf terrorists holed up in Marawi were still holding about 50 hostages, but on Saturday, the President said he was not sure.
He said the terrorists could kill the hostages at government troops’ first attempt to storm buildings held by the gunmen.
‘We’ll get Hapilon’
Mr. Duterte said he was being cautious “because at the end of the day, I take the blame for everything.”
On Sunday, Malacañang promised that the government would capture Isnilon Hapilon, the leader of the Islamic State-inspired terrorists holed up in Marawi.
Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said the government believed Hapilon, leader of an Abu Sayyaf faction that joined the Maute terror group in attacking Marawi, was still alive and in the city, surrounded by government troops.
“We treat numerous reports saying that Hapilon has left Marawi and has been seen openly in Basilan as raw information requiring further validation by the military and various security agencies of [the] government,” he said in a statement.
“Granting Isnilon Hapilon’s whereabouts in Basilan is true, it would mean that he chose to abandon his men as the battle of Marawi nears its final stretch,” Abella said.
But recent military assessment indicated that Hapilon, who has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State jihadist group in the Middle East, is “still very much in Marawi,” he added. —With a report from Philip C. Tubeza in Manila
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