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A resident is seen through a spyhole checking the damage on her house in Marawi City. MindaNews file photo by Froilan Gallardo

‘Go ahead… burn it’

By Carolyn O. Arguillas
MindaNews
and Philippine Center for
Investigative Journalism .

(Fourth of five parts)

On Oct. 17, 2017, the day he declared Marawi “liberated from the terrorist influence,”  Duterte said: “So ‘yan ang paghinakit ko. Hindi namin ito gusto. Ginusto ‘to ng mga Maranao, ng mga Maute, at sinakyan ng ISIS. Hindi amin ‘to. Hindi ‘to sa gobyerno. Tandaan ninyo.”

Yet while he may not have wanted the destruction of Marawi to take place, Duterte had also said that he wouldn’t care if it happened.

Five months before the Marawi Siege began, the President had dared the Maute Group to “go ahead” and “burn” Marawi.

Addressing the Wallace Business Forum at a dinner hosted by Malacañang on Dec. 12, 2016, Duterte took note of the Maute Group’s demand for government to stop the offensives “in the forest” of Butig, Lanao del Sur, otherwise “they will go down upon Marawi to burn the place.”

The President’s response: “Go ahead, do it!”

“We need to do a lot of constructions in this country,” said a visibly combative Duterte. “There are a lot of materials there and we will be glad to rebuild and rehabilitate every structure that you destroy. As long (as) it’s confined in the areas of Lanao, I don’t really care.”

Unfortunately, the Maute Group and its allies took up the challenge and did “go ahead,” invading Marawi on May 23 last year while the President was on a state visit to Russia. Maute Group members took over key areas in the country’s lone Islamic city, burned buildings, and unfurled their black IS flags.

Bad, no intelligence?

But Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, speaking at a press briefing in Moscow near midnight (Manila time) on May 23, 2017, chose to explain what happened this way:  “Elements of the Army and the Police were trying to serve a warrant of arrest on Isnilon Hapilon at Barangay Basak Malutlut in Marawi City when they were met with firefight or firearms — gunfire from the group of Hapilon Isnilon.”

Isnilon Hapilon of the Abu Sayyaf and the proclaimed emir of IS in Southeast Asia, was allegedly holed up in an apartment near the Markaz mosque in Basak Malutlut. He and Omar Maute would end up dead on Oct. 16, 2017, killed by government troops.

Then Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Año, who was also in Moscow at the start of the siege, would later say that the failed raid on Hapilon’s apartment foiled the plan of the Mautes and the Abu Sayyaf to take over Marawi at the beginning of the Ramadan on May 26. But it also apparently prompted them to advance their timetable instead.

Interestingly, Lorenzana at the Moscow press conference had also said that he did not think there was a “lapse of intelligence” but “it’s just appreciation of the intelligence that was lacking there.”

A few weeks later, the President himself would tell the media at Camp Evangelista Station Hospital in Cagayan de Oro City: “We had known (all) along the buildup here in Marawi. That is why if you were tracking me, my statements in public was ‘do not force my hand into it.’”

DU30: Mea culpa

It was a more somber Duterte, however, who spoke last May 22, on the eve of the first anniversary of the start of the siege, describing what took place in Marawi as a “very sad experience.”

He also admitted to having “fallen short in some respects” in the way the crisis was handled, but assumed full responsibility for it, explaining he “did not anticipate or even guess that there would be so much ordnance and that the fight (would take) about four months to finish.”

It had actually lasted five months.

“All of these faults, if it is indeed one, or our faults, it belongs and it falls (sic) on my shoulders as Commander in Chief,” said Duterte at the 120th anniversary celebration of the Philippine Navy at the Coconut Palace, at the CCP Complex in Manila. “And I assume full responsibility to the nation of what’s going to happen.” (To be continued)

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