MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang on Thursday, July 6, denied that President Rodrigo Duterte initiated moves to hammer out a possible deal with the Maute clan to end the Marawi crisis.
“We have no verified reports that there were efforts to initiate such actions as Agakhan Sharief claims,” said Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a Palace news briefing on Thursday.
Agakhan Sharief, a Muslim leader, said in a Reuters report that an aide of Duterte asked for his help to start backchannel talks with leaders of the Maute Group.
The aide supposedly arranged for Sharief and Farhana Maute, mother of Maute Group leaders Omar and Abdullah Maute, to meet with Duterte in Cagayan de Oro City or Davao City.
But the backchannel talks did not push through after Duterte said in a speech he would not talk to terrorists.
On Thursday, Abella reiterated the government’s stance of not negotiating with terrorists.
“The position of the Palace and the President is not to negotiate with terrorists, including these local terrorist groups which intended to establish a state within the Philippine state,” said Duterte’s spokesman.
In the early days of the Marawi clashes, however, Duterte did show an interest in reaching out to terrorists in Marawi.
Just 3 days after the Marawi siege broke out, the President told toops in Iligan City that he was willing to "talk peace" with terrorists who are not hardliners.
“But if they want to talk, I would be most thankful to Allah if we can talk peace. If they want to fight, we can’t do anything. Go for it,” he said in his May 26 speech.
He even announced he had directed lawyer Abdullah Mamao, Presidential Adviser on overseas Filipino workers, to send this "message" to the other side.
"Kaya sabi nila mag-usap 'yung nanay ng Maute. Sabi ko, ‘No, I will not’ (They said the mother of the Maute brothers wanted to talk. I said, 'No, I will not')," he said on June 7.
Duterte had said he refused to speak with Farhana Maute because of the rising number of soldiers and police dying in Marawi.
"I will not talk anymore kasi marami na ang sundalo kong namatay. Marami nang police ko namatay. Putangina, huwag mo akong bolahin diyan sa usap-usap na 'yan," he had said.
(I will not talk anymore because many of my soldiers and police have died. Son of a bitch, don't fool me with those talks.)
Duterte had also ruled out talks between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Maute Group as a way to end fighting in Marawi.
He had said the crisis would only end once the “last terrorist is taken out."
The Marawi crisis and the imposition of martial law in Mindanao marked their 45th day on Thursday. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at email@example.com.