MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte is "considering" talks with the Maute group, a terror group he recently linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Malacañang said on Wednesday, November 30.
"The expression of the President the other day is try to exhaust all possibilities to achieve peace and order and considering discussing with that particular group is in his line of thinking," Communications Assistant Secretary Kris Ablan said in a Palace news briefing on Wednesday.
Ablan was asked to explain Duterte's brief statement in an ambush interview in Nueva Ecija on Tuesday. He said he would "befriend" the Maute group to quell the conflict in Butig, Lanao del Sur, where the group has occupied the abandoned town hall and nearby buildings.
"Kaibiganin natin para walang gulo (Let's befriend them so there is no trouble)," Duterte said on Tuesday.
The Philippine government has long rejected the idea of negotiating with known terrorists. The Maute group was behind the Davao City bombing in September.
Ablan said talking with the group may be one of the "legal and proper ways" Duterte wants to end the violence in Lanao.
But he emphasized that, so far, there is no written directive from defense officials to negotiate with the Maute group.
"There is no written statement that the government will coordinate or mediate or negotiate with this group. It was just an expression made by the President the other day," he said.
On November 24, the group occupied the abandoned town hall of Butig in Lanao del Sur and reportedly raised the black flag of ISIS. The Philippine army has sent elite troops to flush out the group from the town.
Duterte is set to visit the area on Wednesday in order to raise troop morale a day after his advance party was ambushed in Marawi City, injuring 7 presidential security aides – one in critical condition – and two soldiers.
It was not the first time for Duterte to express willingness to "talk" to a terror group: on November 25, he said in a public address that he was "ready to talk" to the Abu Sayyaf, which has also claimed links to ISIS.
In September, Duterte flatly rejected the idea of government negotiations with the Abu Sayyaf, more known now for kidnap-for-ransom activities targetting foreigners some of whom were beheaded for non-payment of ransom. – 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.