PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has asked lawmakers to allot money to hire 20,000 soldiers and 10,000 police to quell terrorism in Mindanao, claiming there were bigger threats than the May 23 attack on Marawi City by the Maute group.
Duterte made the request in a security briefing for lawmakers in Malacañang on Tuesday, senators present in the meeting said.
On Wednesday, Duterte reiterated his request, telling reporters: “I need money and we have so many expenses to share with everybody including the war here (in Marawi)… I have to fund the military. I have to reorganize the police. I need 20,000 new soldiers. It’s depleted. And the police, I would need about 10 battalions of Special Action Force-trained [personnel].”
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Wednesday said the President asked for their support to address “new security threats” in Mindanao, which is under martial law until December 31 because of the Marawi crisis.
The President summoned eight senators on Tuesday afternoon to brief them on the peace and order situation in southern Philippines as well as seek their support for the hiring of more troops to fight terrorists.
Lacson said they were informed of threats in “three areas” in Mindanao. “There are three new threats, [it’s] bigger than Marawi,” said Lacson.
Drilon said “it appears to be serious.”
“There’s a real threat. He (Duterte) informed us of that renewed threat because the SND (Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana) has requested for additional manpower and therefore there will be budgetary consideration,” Drilon said.
Lacson said senators were aware that government forces battling Islamic State-linked Maute extremists in Marawi could be “battle-weary.”
“They’ve been fighting for two months. They just took turns. But then they go back even after being wounded. They still volunteer to go back,” he said.
Lacson said lawmakers would look at fast-tracking legislation to hire new troops.
“There is really a need for fresh legs,” he said.
Sought for clarification, the Defense chief said the supposed threats were “not new.”
“Terror threats in all of Mindanao and even outside Mindanao have been with us for a long time,” he told reporters in a text message.
Lorenzana warned that terrorist groups such as the Abu Sayyaf Group, the Maute and even the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, could make rounds all over the country to sow conflict.
“Filipino terrorists can travel all over the country unimpeded hence they could create mayhem anywhere. That is why we should all be vigilant,” he said.
WITH DEMPSEY REYES