MANILA - The terrorist siege of Marawi was triggered mainly by the spread of violent extremist ideology and not illegal drugs, an assemblyman said Monday after President Rodrigo Duterte named alleged "narco-politicians" behind the attack.
Duterte, in his 5th visit to Marawi, released Thursday a "matrix" of personalities and politicians allegedly funding terror activities there.
Though drug payoffs may have bankrolled the siege, its primary leaders are groups influenced by the Islamic State, said Zia Alonto Adiong, spokesperson of the Marawi Crisis Management Committee.
"The focus really is ideological violent extremism. Ang illegal drug trade talaga is nagbigay lang ng finance, but the root cause of this fight is violent extremism," Adiong told DZMM.
"There is really an organization that is closely linked to ISIS, an international terrorist organization."
Two brothers who led the attack on Marawi, Omar and Abdullah Maute, had embraced violent extremism after studying abroad. Another siege leader, Isnilon Hapilon, is purportedly the Islamic State’s emir in Southeast Asia.
The attack was carried out with the help of militants from neighboring Southeast Asian countries, sparking fears that the rebels are trying to establish an ISIS caliphate in the Philippines.
About 40 terrorists remain in Marawi, down from the hundreds that stormed the bustling lakeside town in May 23, Adiong said, citing military figures.
Some extremists, he said, have sent surrender feelers as troops reclaimed more of their strongholds.
"Makikita natin na iyung morale nila (mga terorista), talagang bumaba. Iyung kanilang planning in terms of holding certain hostages at the same time hold defense in certain locations, talagang humina kasi they're really trying to save themselves ngayon," Adiong told DZMM.
"Mayroong feelers na natatanggap natin that many in their group want to surrender."
Security forces last week retook a 3rd bridge previously controlled by extremists and rescued several hostages, including Fr. Chito Soganub.
Authorities are still struggling to rescue some 50 hostages from the war zone that was heavily rigged by terrorists with homemade bombs, Adiong said.
The terrorists meanwhile are also putting up a "very minimal" resistance against troops, an indication that the battle for Marawi may soon end, the assemblyman added.