Despite the military’s claim that the capability of the Maute terrorists has been significantly degraded, Malacañang on Saturday said the government was not yet eyeing the lifting of martial law in Mindanao.
“As far as the Palace is concerned, the Executive branch wishes for all of this to end as soon as possible. However, the bottomline of martial law is public safety. Public safety as mandated by the Constitution,” Palace spokesman Ernesto Abella told government-run dzRB radio.
“Therefore, the schedule for the lifting of martial law [depends on]whether or not [public safety]is already totally, completely guaranteed or sufficiently guaranteed,” he added.
The Maute terrorists attacked Marawi City on May 23, prompting President Rodrigo Duterte to issue Proclamation 216 declaring martial rule in Mindanao for a 60-day period.
The Palace official expressed optimism that state forces would soon regain control of Marawi City, following “significant developments” in the besieged city.
“The clearing operations of the villages continue. We also take cognizance that enemy resistance continues to dwindle and enemy-held areas continue to grow smaller as the troops advance,” Abella said.
“However, there are compounding developments that we mentioned earlier, like the use of civilians as human shields and mosques [as]staging areas and safe havens,” he added.
Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr. on Friday said “things are working to our advantage,” following the declaration of martial law.
Padilla said the Maute no longer had the ability to replicate the Marawi siege in other areas like Cagayan de Oro City and Iligan City, as their capacities have been “significantly degraded.”
The President on June 1 dispelled apprehensions over martial law, saying that he would be the first person to call for the lifting of military rule over Mindanao once the situation improves.
‘Duterte not inciting outrage’
Abella also insisted that Duterte never intended to spark outrage in his previous pronouncements regarding the supposed alliance of the Islamic State with extremist groups in the Philippines.
This was after The New York Times partly blamed Duterte for the conflict in Mindanao.
“Frankly speaking, the President’s main interest is to ensure the Filipinos’ safety, most especially the Christians and Muslims. He’s not compromising. The context here is always the public safety. It is always the public interest,” Abella said.
In an editorial published on June 15, The New York Times’ Editorial Board wrote that “Duterte’s braggadocio is partly to blame for the escalation of the conflict” in Mindanao.
The New York Times claimed the IS took advantage and forged an alliance with militant groups in Mindanao.
The “successful” attempts of IS-linked terrorists to occupy areas in Mindanao “[threaten]the security of the entire region,” the paper claimed, calling on the Philippine government to negotiate with the IS-linked fighters.
But Abella recalled that Duterte had attempted to hold talks with the Maute bandits. The number of government troops killed in the ongoing battle in Marawi City however forced Duterte to withdraw his peace offer, Abella said.
“He [Duterte] was quite open. He was asking them [extremists]not to wreak havoc. He appealed that to them. But their actuations continue. So he said, ‘I will no longer talk to you,’” Abella said.
“So let us give the President enough credit that he was not picking a fight. Other people do not know that, especially those who are merely listening to the media. They just listen to what they want to hear,” he added.