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No deal with Maute, says Palace

29 June 2017

The Duterte administration has hardened its stand on the Islamist-inspired militants in Marawi City, with presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella vowing that no deal will be struck with the group.

The Maute and Abu Sayyaf militants, who tried to control Marawi City on May 23,  earlier laid down a condition to release Catholic priest Fr. Teresito “Chito” Suganob in exchange for the freedom of the extremists’ parents and relatives in government custody.

“The government’s policy is not to negotiate with terrorists,” Abella asserted during a press briefing at Malacanang. Government authorities earlier captured in separate operations the Maute patriarch Cayamora one June 7 and the matriarch Ominta Farhana on June 9.

After five weeks of fighting, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) expressed confidence that offensive operations will soon be over and victory will be at hand.

Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera, spokesman for Task Force Marawi, said government troops are focused and will accomplish their mission to retake Marawi City. “Troop morale remains very high and we appeal to everyone to continue to support and pray for our troops. The Armed Forces of the Philippines is winning and that victory is irreversible,” Herrera said.

Militant-held areas are continuing to grow smaller as government security forces advance into the city, he said.

“Troops continue to get deeper into once enemy-held positions as evidenced by the recovery of cadavers of terrorists and their firearms, computers and peripherals as well as communication equipment and accessories,” Herrera said.

But he admitted that government forces are still facing challenges in their clearing operations. The ISIS-inspired local terror group has planted improvised bombs in houses and buildings they are ready to set fire to once government forces come near.

Still, indications are that government forces are gaining ground.

Islamist militants still entrenched in Marawi have beheaded several individuals, the military spokesman said, citing accounts of rescued civilians. But so far, the military has not recovered any decapitated body.

Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, AFP spokesman, said the Islamic State-inspired Maute militants had executed Christians, based on the information provided by individuals who had been rescued or who escaped from the militant stronghold at the heart of the city.

Padilla said their assessment was based on survivor accounts as well as on the videos posted by the militants on the websites of their sympathizers.

However, when asked if they had recovered any body whose head had been severed to serve as proof that beheadings really transpired, Padilla said: “Opo, wala pa po tayong nare-recover bagamat maaaring ginawa ito sa lugar na pinagkukutaan nila na sa ngayon ay hindi pa natin napapasok.”

Padilla said the beheading did not just happen at the beginning of the conflict but has been continuing up to now, according to those who have escaped. “Tama po ‘yung impormasyong nakuha natin. ‘Yan po ay naging parte ng simula ng pagkakaroon ng bakbakan diyan. Napakadami na rin pong impormasyon dahil lahat po ng kanilang nahuhuli at nakikita nilang mga Kristyano ay ine-execute nila,” Padilla said in a news briefing.

“Ngayon ito naman pong nare-rescue nating mga kababayan natin sa loob at ‘yung ilang nakakatakas, ganyan na rin po ‘yung binigay na feedback. Kaya malaki po ang pruweba na hindi lang po nung simula nila ginawa ito kung hindi patuloy pa rin hanggang sa ngayon,” he added.

Padilla said that based on the information from the local government there were still around 500 civilians trapped in the heart of the city, where the clashes have been the most intense.

Earlier, Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera, spokesperson of the Joint Task Force Marawi, said only around 100 to 200 individuals were trapped or being held hostage by the Maute rebels.

Herrera had reported that rescue operations had freed around 1,704 civilians taken hostage or caught in the hostilities.

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