'We can't have a stalemate for over one year'
MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday cited challenges in strategy as the reason why the Marawi siege has dragged on for more than 3 months, including a shelved plan to bomb the city's Grand Mosque.
Duterte revealed that there was a plan to bomb the Grand Mosque to kill Islamic State-linked terror leaders holed up in the area, which he opposed as it would have also killed hostages.
"I will admit to you now bakit matagal yung siege. Matagal na talagang gusto bobombahin ang mosque to capture or kill the leaders there and, in the process, sacrifice ‘yung mga hostage, who are all Filipinos, maybe Maranaos and mingling of Christians, Tagalog nandiyan," Duterte said in a speech at the 23rd anniversary of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda).
The crisis hit its 100th day on Wednesday.
"Sabi ko, no, it will just create more animosity and outright hostility sa gobyerno, hindi tayo patatawarin ng Maranao. Sabi ko, dahan-dahan lang but up to this time, there is a stalemate," he added.
The President said he gave troops the option to go through with the plan during his third visit in Marawi on Aug. 24.
"The last time I was there, I finally said na the option is already yours. Because we cannot have a stalemate for over one year," said the President, who placed Mindanao under martial law because of the conflict.
"But I have my limits even if I’m President, hanggang diyan lang ako. I cannot go beyond that. Ang istorya ganun kung bakit natagalan ng kaunti," he said.
Duterte said he did not readily authorize an attack on the mosque as "it will generate more hatred instead of healing."
"Pero matagal na kasi, it’s out of my hands already. And a lot of people in the government were already complaining," he added, recalling his Aug. 24 decision.
On the same day, state forces retook the Grand Mosque but did not find any terrorists or hostages.
However, gunbattles erupted anew near the Grand Mosque the next day.
The military on Tuesday said fighting in the city was limited to a much smaller area.
A total of 792 people, mostly terror suspects, have died since clashes erupted between state forces and Islamic State-inspired extremists on May 23.
The clashes have forced more than 200,000 out of Marawi City and thousands more from nearby areas. The crisis has also destroyed much of the once bustling urban center.