Stop attacks or face war, Duterte tells Maute group

Soldiers secure the site of a roadside blast in the village of Matampay in Marawi City where seven members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) were wounded in an ambush by suspected Islamic militants on November 29.

MANILA — President Duterte yesterday warned the Maute terrorist group to stop its attacks or face a full-blown war from government forces.

“Dito sa Maute (In the case of Maute), I said I don’t want to wage a war against Filipinos but I told them that they have to stop. Sana huwag na lang tayo umabot ng giyera (I hope it won’t escalate into war) so I’m doing everything to prevent a war,” the President said in a chance media interview in Lanao del Sur.

“Hindi ko naman sila tinatakot. Sabi ko lang ayaw ko, ayaw kong makipag-giyera (I’m not threatening them. I’m only emphasizing that I don ‘t want to engage in war) but do not force my hand into it,” the commander-in-chief added.

The government’s action plan against the Islamic State-linked group was discussed by the President with top military officials during a closed-door meeting at the 103rd Brigade Tactical Command post in Butig, Lanao del Sur. The President visited the province to check military operations against the Maute Group, which took over the town’s old municipal hall Thursday last week.

As a result of the government offensive, at least 61 Maute Group members have already been killed while 12 others were wounded. From the government side, at least 35 soldiers have been wounded.

For now, the President said military operations against the Maute Group will be sustained.

“They (the military) have to go on with the operations. What is there to stop? Wala naman nagpapakita ng (No one is showing) sincerity diyan (there) so the fight goes on,” he said.

Duterte pushed through with the visit despite the attack on his advance party last Tuesday in Marawi City, wounding seven of his security aides and four soldiers.

The President was accompanied by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, AFP vice chief of staff Lt. Gen. Glorioso Miranda, and Army chief Lt. Gen. Eduardo Año.

They were met by AFP Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Mayoralgo dela Cruz; Maj. Gen. Gerry Barrientos Jr., commander of the 1st Infantry Division; and Col. Rosseler Murillo, commander of the 103rd Infantry Brigade.

In Lanao del Sur, President Duterte also visited troops stationed at Lumbayanague.
From there, the President went straight to Cagayan de Oro City and pinned the Wounded Personnel Medals on the 11 victims of the Marawai City ambush.

Army Captain Joe Patrick Martinez, spokesman of the 4th Infantry Division, said President Duterte pinned the medals on Captain Reynaldo Zamora Jr., Staff Sergeant Renie Damaso, Sgt. Eric Ubalde, Corporal Joselito Gallentes, Private First Class Fernando Corpuz, all confined at the Polymedic Hospital; as well as S/Sgt. Eufrociho Payumo Jr., Sgt. Jesus Garcia, Cpl. Vincent Paniza, Cpl. Rodel Jenova, Cpl. Edward de Leon, and Pfc. James Gonzales, who are confined at the Camp Evangelista Station Hospital.

Meanwhile, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said that it has already taken back the old municipal hall in Butig town from the Maute Group.

Marine Col. Edgard A. Arevalo, chief of the AFP Public Affairs Office, said soldiers were able to take back the old municipal hall from the bandits at about 9:20 a.m. yesterday.

An elated AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Ricardo Visaya said: “It was not without the cost of life and limb of the lawless terrorist Maute Group, and the sweat and blood of our soldiers. But it has to be so to ensure that our people will live peacefully knowing that their soldiers are there to protect them.”

“In order to fully defeat the enemies of the state, however, we need the support and cooperation of our people. We exhort them to be vigilant and resist the influence of terrorists and lawless groups,” he added.

Army Major Felimon Tan, the spokesman of the AFP’s Western Mindanao Command (WestMinCom), said that based on reports they have been receiving on field units on the ground, troops have already captured 85 to 90 percent of the Poblacion in Butig.

Arevalo said that based on information from Col. Roselier Murillo, the commander of the 103rd Brigade which is leading the operation against the Maute Group, fighting has already stopped, with soldiers now conducting clearing operations and bandits withdrawing from the area.

“Fighting has already stopped according to Col. Murillo but there are still unexploded ordnance in the area such as IEDs (improvised explosive device),” Arevalo said.

“Let’s just say that our task to recover or retake the municipality is 80 percent complete because we haven’t fully cleared the area, there are still unexploded ordnance that we need to clear before we can say our mission is 100 percent complete,” Arevalo said.