The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) found strong links between the Maute terrorists and insurgents in Mindanao, the AFP spokesman said on Monday.
This was after President Rodrigo Duterte over the weekend revealed that the Maute may have acquired its huge stockpile of weapons from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
In a news conference in Malacañang, AFP spokesman Restituto Padilla Jr. said the Islamic State-linked Maute terrorists could have obtained their weapons from relatives who were members of the two rebel groups.
“These firearms have been there in Marawi a long time ago. Some of the members of the Maute group may have relatives in other groups or armed groups,” Padilla told reporters.
“There are so many armed groups in Mindanao that could potentially be a source of firearms for this group,” he added.
A total of 250 firearms have been recovered by the military from the Maute fighters.
Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera, spokesman of the Army’s 1st Infantry Division, said the Maute terrorists could be copying the tactics initiated by the Islamic State, given their significant firepower.
“Just look at how they use anti-tank weapons against a tank or [armored army trucks]. They are using 90-RR (M67 recoilless rifle) and they are also using a mortar and these are strong weapons,” Herrera said.
“They also optimize [the use of]technology. They are using the social media, radios. From what we recovered from them, they have been using different war materials,” he added.
‘Seize loose firearms during martial law’
Padilla said illegal firearms held by private armed groups in Mindanao should be seized by the government during the martial law period declared by the President last May 23 after the Maute group attacked Marawi City.
“This is a cause for concern that has been there since a long time ago and has been addressed many times over but unsuccessfully. And we hope that during this period of martial law, we can successfully cover this and get rid or confiscate all these loose firearms,” he said.
Defense Secretary Lorenzana likewise said a lot of “loose firearms” have been circulating in Mindanao.
“Since the time of Marcos there has always been a lot of loose firearms circulating in Mindanao especially in Lanao, Maguindanao, Basilan and Sulu,” the head of the Department of National Defense told The Manila Times.
However, the Maute group may have also acquired arms from a foreign source, or from encounters with the military and the police.
“The Mautes had a lot of money from their legal [businesses]and illegal [drugs]as a source of funds to procure these guns and arm their private army,” Lorenzana said.
Asked if the Armed Forces would go after the Moro rebels, Lorenzana replied: “Not anymore because we have ongoing peace talks.”
Speaking to reporters after visiting the Army’s 401st Brigade in Butuan City on Saturday, Duterte said that the government knew that the Maute terrorists were stockpiling firearms and ammunition in Marawi City but took it for granted because of the peace negotiations with the MILF and MNLF.
“It was not a question of failure on the part of government. It was not a failure of intelligence. It is because we have adopted a very soft policy toward the rebels,” Duterte said.
The MILF, a splinter group of the MNLF, and the Duterte administration are in talks for a Bangsamoro political entity in Mindanao.
Padilla was confident the President’s latest revelation would not affect the peace negotiations with the Moro rebels.
Both the MILF and MNLF have offered to help government troops fight the Maute group. Duterte and the MILF earlier agreed to establish a “peace corridor” to help rescue civilians affected by the fighting in Marawi, which entered its 28th day on Monday.
Palace spokesman Ernesto Abella said 26 civilians, 62 government men, and 250 terrorists have been killed amid fighting in Marawi. A total of 1,637 civilians have been rescued by authorities.
He said the military’s clearing operations continue to yield “positive results,” noting that only portions of four out of 96 villages in the besieged city “remain problematic areas.”
“Enemy resistance continues to wane and enemy-held areas continue to diminish as government security forces press its advance,” Abella said.
“Troops continue to get deeper into once enemy-held positions as evidenced by the recovery of cadavers of terrorists and their firearms, computers and peripherals, as well as communications equipment and accessories,” he added.
Abella also reported that security forces seized at least 11 kilos of suspected methamphetamine hydrochloride, commonly known as shabu, from a dismantled Maute hideout in Marawi City (see story on A2).
Herrera also clarified that the United States Armed Forces have no participation in the ongoing offensive in Marawi City against the Maute group, except for technical assistance.
He noted that the Philippines and the US have a mutual defense pact in 1951, and this could be the reason why the Americans were providing help to the country amid the ongoing clashes, despite President Duterte’s tirades against the US.
“They are like international journalists who are present everywhere [in the country]and as I have said, we have an agreement [with them]and with our operations, [but]they (US military) have no participation,” Herrera said.
With DEMPSEY REYES