PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday warned civil war could erupt in Mindanao if Christians started taking up arms against Islamist fighters, but said the government would prevent such armed confrontation from happening.
In remarks during a visit to wounded soldiers at the Camp Evangelista Station Hospital in Cagayan de Oro City, Duterte said he feared that Christians in Mindanao might take matters into their own hands amid the spread of Islamic State (IS)-linked terrorists under the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups.
“It will be trouble if Christians in Mindanao take up arms,” Duterte said.
Unlike Moro rebels, the Abu Sayyaf and Maute terrorists only wanted to kill and destroy property, he said.
“Just like in the Middle East…all killings and destruction. That’s the only thing they know,” he said in Filipino.
The government, however, will prevent civil war from erupting, the President said.
“We can’t allow that because if civilians take up arms, it will be a civil war. So we have two jobs: How to hold the Christians with arms, and this IS-linked Maute,” he added.
This, he said, was the reason the government is committed to hasten the peace process with the Moro groups, particularly the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
“Our hope is to hasten the peace talks,” the President said.
Duterte on May 23 placed Mindanao under martial law following the Maute attack on Marawi City. Fighting has so far left over 300 dead: 258 terrorists, 65 government troops and 26 civilians.
A total of 1,637 civilians have been rescued by government forces and civil society and nongovernment organizations.
At least 16 buildings previously occupied by the Maute group were recently cleared by government security forces in Marawi City, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) reported on Tuesday.
However, 4 barangay (villages) remain “problematic areas” in the city.
“We are getting near and as each day goes, we are getting closer to totally liberating Marawi because we are continually working to degrade the capacity of the enemy to hold on to their spaces and at the same time sustain their fight,” AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr. told reporters.
‘Marawi won’t be IS hub’
Malacañang on Tuesday also sought to allay fears that Marawi City would become a new hub for Islamist fighters in Southeast Asia.
Palace spokesman Ernesto Abella issued the statement after US Sen. Joni Ernst expressed alarm over the growing presence of IS fighters in Mindanao.
“It’s unlikely for Marawi to become a new hub for IS fighters,” Abella told reporters in a news conference.
“The Philippine military has already pre-empted the Maute group from establishing a wilayah or province in Marawi,” he added.
A report quoted Senator Ernst as saying the US government wanted a bigger role in the Philippine military’s operations in Marawi City as it feared the area was becoming a new IS hub in the region.
“I don’t know that [IS] are directing operations there but they are certainly trying to get fighters into that region,” Ernst was quoted as saying. “We need to address the situation. It should not get out of control.”
Abella said the US should provide only “technical assistance,” noting that the Constitution prohibits foreign troops from participating directly in combat operations.
“The role of the US in relation to IS is to provide technical assistance as prescribed by the Constitution and we will abide by that,” he said.
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