Marawi won’t be terrorist enclave, PH assures US senators

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Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

There is no reason to fear that Marawi City would become an enclave of the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group in Southeast Asia, as the Philippine military has nipped this plan in the bud, Malacañang said on Tuesday in response to concerns expressed by US senators.

US lawmakers, including senators from President Donald Trump’s Republican Party, have broached the idea of expanding American assistance to the Philippines to defeat the terrorists who had laid siege to Marawi and prevent IS from establishing a base in Southeast Asia.

Preempted

“At this stage,I suppose we’ll have to take the position that it’s unlikely for Marawi to become a new hub for IS fighters. The Philippine military has already preempted the Maute group from establishing a wilayat or province in Marawi,” presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella told reporters.

As for the suggestion to expand the United States’ role in the fighting in Marawi, Abella said Malacañang would go by what was allowed by law.

The United States, at the request of the Philippine military, has been providing technical assistance to the Marawi campaign, including aerial surveillance to pinpoint the location of IS-inspired terrorists holed up in the city.

Grateful

Asked if the US role in the conflict meant Philippine-US relations were improving, Abella said the mechanism for the United States to help the Philippine military had always been in place.

He also said President Rodrigo Duterte had “accepted the situation at this stage.”

Mr. Duterte earlier said he was not aware that the United States was helping the Philippine military in the Marawi conflict, but was nevertheless grateful for the assistance.

The US military’s assistance in Marawi came months after Mr. Duterte lashed out at the United States for criticizing his bloody war on drugs and distanced the Philippines from its longest ally by saying he wanted to cut economic and military ties with Washington.

Mr. Duterte has also said he wants all foreign troops out of the Philippines in two years.

The fighting between government forces and terrorists from the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups, which led to the declaration of martial law in Mindanao on May 23, has been raging for nearly a month and led to the declaration of martial law in Mindanao.

Philippine officials have been saying for days that troops are closing in on the terrorists and close to retaking the city from them.

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