MANILA (UPDATE)– President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday paid a visit to soldiers deployed to fight Islamic extremists in Marawi City, boosting the morale of troops who have so far suffered 13 deaths since violence erupted earlier this week.
Duterte only had good words for the soldiers, saying the government would pour all of its resources to back the troops fighting the terrorist Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups.
“This is is a time for victory. We will not lose it. How can we lose it ? We have everything. Wala kayong problema. I will take care of you,” Duterte told soldiers the 2nd Mechanized Infantry Brigade in Iligan City.
The President even quipped that he would have joined the troops if he could.
“Fight for the country. Ako, kung maari lang kung pwede lang rin ako makisali sa ano, sasali ako,” he said.
“I’m a leader, I'm supposed to show the way. Pero kung saan ninyo ako gusto, ipatawag ninyo, tawagin mo ‘yan si Mayor, papuntahin mo dito. Pupunta ako.”
Duterte also joked that soldiers could rape up to three women, as he reassured them of his full support under his newly imposed regional martial law.
Duterte, who often peppers his language with man-on-the-street curses, made the comments in jest during a speech at a military base to lift the spirits of troops tasked with quelling what he says is a fast-growing threat of Islamist terrorism.
"For this martial law and the consequences of martial law and the ramifications of martial law, I and I alone would be responsible. Just do your work. I will handle the rest," he said.
"I will be imprisoned for you. If you rape three (women), I will say that I did it."
His comments were met with derision by women's group Gabriela, which said in a statement that Duterte should be reminded that "a rape joke made even as women and children's lives are in great danger...is the height of insensitivity."
"Rape is not a joke. Martial law and the heightened vulnerability to military abuse that it brings to women and children are not a joke either," Gabriela said.
"This attempt to please the military forces using women to feed the macho-fascist mentality of the AFP emboldens military forces to systematically use rape as a tool of war and subject women to further abuse and impunity," said the group.
It said Duterte must consider "the interest and protection of women and children from abuse." The group als called on the President to lift his martial law declaration.
At least 31 suspected terrorists have been killed so far, and about six of those slain were from Malaysia and Indonesia, Armed Forces spokesperson Restituto Padilla said.
The government side suffered 13 deaths: 11 soldiers and two policemen. Duterte paid a visit to five of the soldiers killed in the clashes after his speech before the troops in Iligan City.
The President placed Mindanao under martial law after local terrorists, apparently aided by foreign fighters, laid siege to Marawi City.
The president also suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, which means anyone charged with rebellion or invasion can be arrested without a court-issued warrant.
Sporadic clashes in the city erupted as government troops were trying to arrest Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, said to be the anointed leader of the Islamic State in Southeast Asia. Hapilon has a $5-million bounty on his head.
In explaining his declaration to Congress, Duterte said the local terror groups were planning to create an Islamic province in Mindanao. -- with Agence France-Presse