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MANILA, Philippines – The chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP) on Wednesday, June 28, admitted a “law enforcement failure” in Marawi even before local terror groups and their sympathizers tried to take control of the city over a month ago.
“In other major urban centers, we were prepared. In Marawi, they were really there. You may call it a slight failure on law enforcement when it comes to Marawi, if I’m being honest,” said Director General Ronald dela Rosa during a panel interview aired live on the News 5 Facebook page.
The failure, said Dela Rosa, was cops’ inability to curb the spread of loose firearms in the city, a situation he blamed on the local “culture.”
The PNP chief, who was born, raised, and spent most of his career in Mindanao, said it was common for local politicians and other powerful local figures to have well-armed militias of their own.
Dela Rosa was being quizzed about the government’s prior intelligence on the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups’ plan to take over Marawi City. The PNP chief and other government officials had earlier admitted to knowing about the plot beforehand.
On May 23, military and police attempted to arrest Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, who was spotted in the city. To their surprise, hundreds of Maute and Abu Sayyaf fighters – and sympathizers – had already embedded themselves in the city, apparently ready to begin a siege.
Dela Rosa refused to say it was a failure to appreciate intelligence, responding to a question by journalist Jamela Alindogan.
“The Maute Group was well-estimated by the military and police. What we underestimated was the support they would get. We were gaining victory in flushing them out of Butig but they ended up moving out to Marawi. The support, we were unable to estimate,” said Dela Rosa.
“They had accumulated bullets, bombs were already prepared,” he added.
Tens of thousands of families have been forced to flee Marawi, as military operations – including air strikes – continue against the terrorists, who earlier pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS).
One of the solutions to the law enforcement problem in Marawi, said Dela Rosa, was to deploy cops from Luzon or the Visayas to the city. Dela Rosa explained cops who hail from Marawi are sometimes afraid to enforce the law, lest they begin rido, or feuds between families.
More soldiers and police are being deployed to Marawi from all over the country. Dela Rosa said recently, troops from the PNP’s Special Action Force based in Zamboanga City were tapped to reinforce police efforts in the city.
Duterte placed the entire Mindanao island under martial law just hours after the Marawi clashes erupted. The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus was also suspended, giving military and police more leeway for warrantless arrests.