MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday blamed local government units in Marawi City for failing to prevent the eruption of violence in the predominantly Muslim city.
Duterte said the local governments should have done more to prevent the build-up of terrorists who later laid siege on the city in a bid to establish an Islamic State province in the Philippines.
“Kasi nakapwesto na sila at hindi natin alam. ‘Yan lang ang sisi ko diyan sa mga officials sa --- the local government. I think I have to purge them. Nobody told us ‘yung mga tunnels diyan sa --- parang Viet Cong,” Duterte said in a speech in San Miguel, Bulacan, where he led the groundbreaking of a housing site for the military.
Fighting has been raging in the city since May 23, claiming the lives of nearly 1,000 people, mostly terrorists linked to the terrorist groups Maute and Abu Sayyaf.
The clashes have left the once vibrant city in shambles and hundreds of thousands of residents displaced.
The President said ending the Marawi siege has proved to be tougher compared to fighting communist rebels, given the urban setting of the battle.
“Mas madali patayin itong mga NPA (New People’s Army) kasi open field eh. Itong terorista, mag-agaw sila ng isang siyudad at i-fortify nila lahat ng windows, meron silang butas. So ‘yang pagdating ng mga sundalo ko, oh tapos, hurot lahat ‘yung unang responders--- ‘yung Marines.”
The President hopes that the siege in Marawi City will be over soon. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also expressed confidence that the crisis will soon be over.
Speaking to reporters, Lorenzana said the fighting in Marawi is now limited to around three hectares.
The President, however, said even if the Marawi crisis ends, the threat of terrorism will not simply go away.
“Itong terrorism inspired ng ISIS will not go in about seven to 10 years. There will be violence everywhere. Ke sa mga America, ke Europe, lahat tinamaan. Tayo, most profoundly, sa siege sa Marawi,” he said.
“They will not disappear. They will regroup anywhere and everywhere. Ang sabi ko lang, and I’m warning you, the soldiers of the Republic: What if they strike in five places at the same time? Zamboanga, maybe Basilan, Isabela.”
The violent clashes in Marawi City had prompted Duterte to place the entire Mindanao under martial law until the end of the year.
The emergence of groups pledging allegiance to Islamic State is considered the biggest security problem to face the over year-old Duterte administration.
The rise of pro-Islamic State groups in the country has also raised alarm in Washington and the Philippines’ neighbors in the region, which fear that the terror group is seeking to establish a new front in Asia following losses in Iraq and Syria.