Government throws out last-minute negotiations with Maute

CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – The government junked a new offer from former Marawi City Mayor Omar Solitario to negotiate the release of hostages trapped in the war zone in exchange for the safe passage of terrorists. 

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana rejected outright the proposal that was coursed through chief presidential peace adviser Secretary Jesus Dureza. Lorenzana shared with the media their text exchanges. 

Solitario said it was the best way to end the war, an argument that did not sit well with the military. Lorenzana said the proposal was too late because the military was looking at ending the war "before October." 

The same proposal was floated in Marawi City in the first weeks of the war. Its proponents argued then that it was better to let the terrorists escape the battle zone to spare the city from getting destroyed from the clashes. The military can supposedly resume chasing the terrorists in the mountains. 

The war is now on its 4th month. Up to 145 soldiers have been killed in the fighting and Marawi City's commercial district is practically flattened. About 600,000 displaced residents of Marawi City and nearby towns are waiting to return to their homes.

Solitario vs Año

Solitario didn't see a "fast conclusive military solution" to the war. "I suggest we end the fighting so that a more integrated counter extremist scheme can be launched," Solitario told Dureza. 

"The bad guys inside Marawi are not the problem. Our problem is the 7 million Bangsamoro people. They are a huge pool of terror recruits," Solitario added in his text message to Dureza.

Armed Forces of the Philippines chief General Eduardo Año told Lorenzana that Solitario couldn't be trusted and gave the assurance that the crisis will be over soon. 

"Any negotiation will just prolong the conflict and resurrect the enemies somewhere else. Huwag na tayong magpa- (Let's not) sweet talk kay Solitario who is just trying to save his neck," Año said based on the text message shared by Lorenzana.

"How could he say that the Maute-ISIS is not the problem. That would be an insult to us and to our 145 KIA (killed in action) and 1,400 WIA (wounded in action)," Año added.

Lorenzana said Solitario's proposal could have been entertained at the beginning of the war – when only a few soldiers were killed and a few buildings were destroyed.

The proposal of Solitario, a mediator with the Maute Group, was triggered by the speech of President Rodrigo Duterte last week saying he sent an emissary to work on the release of the hostages. 

The former mayor has served as mediator with the Maute Group as far back as last year when the local terrorist group linked with Islamic State (ISIS) was still fighting in Butig, Lanao Del Sur. 

Solitario's inclusion in the arrest order against personalities allegedly aiding the terrorist groups came as a surprise. Lorenzana, the administrator of Martial Law, withdrew his name from the list but would later include it again. 

Dureza said he only relayed the text message to Lorenzana and had “no take one way or the other” on the proposal.

“I was not familiar with the scenarios and dynamics on the ground so I forwarded the same to Secretary Lorenzana for determination,” said Dureza. – Rappler.com