MANILA-President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday denied that the crisis in Marawi city was a result of failure of intelligence, as clashes between government forces and Islamic State-linked terrorists continue on its fourth week.
Speaking for the first time in public after a 5-day hiatus, Duterte, during his visit to troops at the 4th Infantry Division Command Post in Butuan City, said the government “took for granted” the entry of firearms into Marawi due to hopes of a peace deal with communist rebels.
“Itong Maute were bringing the firearms…at hindi natin nakuha na gaano karami ang ammo pati baril sa loob. It was not a failure of intelligence,” he told soldiers.
Duterte said Maute extremists were allegedly backed by local politicians in stockpiling arms in Marawi, which is why when clashes erupted it seemed as if the terrorists had an “endless” supply of firearms.
“Itong Maute the connivance of the politicians there, mga warlords, were stockpiling [arms],” he said.
Prior to the eruption of clashes in Marawi, the Duterte administration was keen on fostering a peace deal with communist rebels.
But criticism of his martial law declaration in Mindanao from the communists sparked tensions between the two sides with Duterte warning that he would order the arrest of communist leaders abroad.
During the oral arguments on petitions seeking to nullify the declaration of military rule in Mindanao, Supreme Court Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo said the military had a "total" failure of intelligence on the Maute group’s attack in Marawi City.
“Apparently the Maute rebels were well-prepared. How is it that our military, it’s a total failure of intelligence,” Del Castillo said Wednesday.
Solicitor General Jose Calida responded to Del Castillo's question by saying “intelligence gathering is not perfect.”
The president also called on the military to resume the use of air assets, saying foreign terrorists are fighting alongside the Maute group.
“We have to use the air assets now because we are up against fighters nanggaling iyan diyan sa Middle East and they have learned the art of brutal killing… 'Pag hinayaan natin iyan ng ganun, patay ang Pilipino,” he said.
State forces on May 23 were met by Abu Sayyaf and Maute terrorists with resistance in Marawi during an attempt to arrest Abu Sayyaf senior leader Isnilon Hapilon.
Thousands of civilians have been displaced while more than 300 have died, among them 26 civilians and 59 government troops, since clashes erupted on May 23.