ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – President Duterte has accepted the offer of Moro National Liberation Front chief Nur Misuari to deploy MNLF fighters in Marawi City and help the military defeat the Maute terror group.
During a visit to wounded soldiers in Jolo on Saturday, Duterte urged the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the New People’s Army (NPA) to do the same.
Duterte cited a letter that Misuari sent him, offering 5,000 MNLF fighters in the fight against the terrorists.
In the letter, Misuari said the Marawi incident is an opportunity for them to show their mettle in helping the President and the people restore peace in Mindanao, particularly in Marawi.
The President was considering a suggestion to enlist the MILF and MNLF fighters as well as the NPA in the fight against the Maute.
In return, the government will give the secessionist fighters and guerrillas pay and privileges similar to what the members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) receive.
“I am announcing to all forces of the MI, MN, if this conflict will take long and if you want to join, cast your lot with the Republic… I will take you in as soldiers, same privileges, and I will build houses for you in some areas,” Duterte said.
He called on the NPA rebels to leave their leaders who are waging conflict at the expense of civilians, to leave the ranks and join forces with the military in fighting the Islamic State terrorists.
Duterte said the NPA rebels are being fooled by their leaders, whom he said are the ones benefitting from the revolutionary taxes that the guerrillas collect or extort from the people.
“I am going to create a new division for you. Wala ng qualification, tutal marunong naman kayo mag-baril (no more qualifications, anyway you know how to shoot). Practice na lang kayo ng kalabit. I am willing to take you in as soldiers of the Republic,” Duterte said.
AFP spokesman Restituto Padilla, however, said the recruitment of rebels into the military has to undergo some processes.
He said Duterte made the statement to stress the need to unite against a common threat, citing former rebels from the MNLF and the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army who had successfully integrated into the armed forces.
The President said the Marawi siege is financed by drug lords, who hide under the cover of the IS-influenced Maute group.
Duterte said drug lords support the operations of the terrorists, including arms supply.
He said the government has been overtaken by the scourge of the illegal drug trade in Marawi, and that the attack is not purely fueled by the IS.
He said the illegal drug trade is the root of the conflict, noting Marawi is a hotbed of methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu and other illegal drugs in Mindanao.
He said the Maute brothers put up their own shabu laboratory in Marawi after learning that business for the so-called poor man’s cocaine is brisk in Metro Manila.
He said a raid conducted in the backyard of the house of the Mautes’ father was not reported in the media.
Duterte said Maute followers, who worked for some politicians, were lured by money and firearms.
The young Abu Sayyaf bandits, he said, were brainwashed by the so-called Islamic scholars and found their way to the IS and Maute group.
Duterte said he used to frequent Marawi and Iligan in his younger years. He said the problem of extremism at first was due to the growing sense of nationalism among Filipinos following the invasion of Spain in 1521.
The President said Christians and Muslims, who joined the illegal drug operations in the area, were pressured by the government’s anti-drug war. He said in a bid to get protection, these young men joined the Maute to pretend to fight for Islam.
“That’s what happened to the Visayans who got involved in the shabu operations. After they were pressured by the government anti-drug war, they proclaimed themselves jihadists in order to be protected by the group,” Duterte said.
He said it was one of the reasons there are a number of the so-called Islam converts or balik-Islam.
Duterte said criminal gangsters in Buldon town also joined the Maute group for protection.
He said the Maute brothers are into drug operations and pretending to be allied with the Islamic State because of the presence of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, who was anointed by IS as its leader in the Philippines.
“Iyan ang giyera ngayon. Actually, it started with drugs. And they were producing drugs halfway, not really to negosyo but to fund the terrorism kaya maraming armas (that’s why they are well armed),” Duterte said, noting that was the war now, drugs to buy arms to further terrorism. – With Perseus Echeminada, Alexis Romero