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MANILA, Philippines – Had they known the “exact date” local terror groups were going to launch a plan to take over Marawi City in Lanao del Sur, top defense officials would not have pushed through with a trip to Russia, the chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP) said on Wednesday, June 14.
“Hindi naman natin alam kung anong fixed date. Kung nagsabi sila ng fixed date, eh di ready tayo (We did not have a fixed date. Had [intelligence sources] given us a fixed date, we would have been ready),” said PNP chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa in a chance interview when asked about the government’s apparent previous intel on the plot to capture Marawi.
On May 23, members of local terror groups Maute and Abu Sayyaf attempted to take over Marawi City after government troops tried to arrest Isnilon Hapilon, an Abu Sayyaf leader. Hapilon is said to have direct contact with the international terror group ISIS.
When the clashes began, top defense and security officials – including Dela Rosa himself – were in Russia for what was supposed to be a week-long official visit.
Also part of the Philippine delegation were Defense Chief Delfin Lorenzana, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr, and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief General Eduardo Año. Also in Russia was the regional police chief of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. (READ: AFP defends officials’ Russia trip despite advance info on Marawi)
Former president and retired general Fidel Ramos had earlier criticized some government officials whom he said turned the Russia visit into a “junket.”
May 23 was supposed to be the first full day of Duterte’s visit to Russia, although no events were scheduled on that day. The last full day of the Russia visit was supposed to be on May 26 – the day the terror plot was supposedly going to be launched.
Duterte and his entourage flew back to the Philippines immediately, but not before placing the entire Mindanao island under martial law while he was in Russia.
In comments submitted to the Supreme Court, Solicitor General Jose Calida said the “ISIS-inspired local rebel groups had intended to burn down the entire city of Marawi on the day of Ramadan, or on May 26, 2017. The said attack would have served as the precursor for other rebel groups to stage their own uprisings across Mindanao in a bid to simultaneously establish a wilayah in the region.”
Dela Rosa said the information – on the supposed date they planned to launch their attack – was not available to him.
“Wala, hindi ako privy to that information. Alam namin may plano. Nakarating sa atin, meron silang movement… Alam natin na si Isnilon Hapilon from Basilan, lumipat sa Marawi at doon sila nagga-gather ng supporters nila, ng mga Maute because they are planning something. Alam natin yun. Pero di natin alam yung exact date na gagawin nila ang malaking plano. Kung alam lang namin, di kami biya-biyahe,” he said.
(I was not privy to that information. We knew there was a plan. The information that we had was about the movement. He know that Isnilon Hapilon moved to Marawi from Basilan and it’s there that they gathered their supporters, supporters of Maute because they were planning something. We knew that. But we did not know the exact date they would execute their grand plan. If we had known, we wouldn’t have travelled.)
Dela Rosa said they knew that Abu Sayyaf fighters were “migrating” from Basilan to Lanao del Sur, where Maute fighters are based.
As of June 14, at least 286 people have died as a result of the clash, broken down into 202 Maute or Abu Sayyaf fighters, 58 policemen and soldiers, and 26 civilians. – Rappler.com