Claim: At the general debate of the 74th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), Foreign Secretary Teodoro “Teddyboy” Locsin Jr said that the Marawi war, which lasted from May 23 to October 17, 2017, was “triggered” by an attempt to serve an arrest warrant for drug trafficking.
He said: “Terrorism, with its links to drug trafficking and organized crime, is the most pressing threat to us all. The fight to retake the city of Marawi, which left it looking like Swiss cheese, was triggered by an attempt to serve a warrant of arrest for drug trafficking on the leader of an Islamic jihad.”
Locsin spoke as the Philippines’ representative at the UNGA general debates on Saturday, September 28, New York time (Sunday, September 29, Manila time).
The theme for this year’s debate was “Galvanizing multilateral efforts for poverty eradication, quality education, climate action, and inclusion.”
The facts: The Maute group’s involvement in drug trafficking was never mentioned in early statements made by defense and military leaders in explaining why they conducted the operations that triggered the escalation of hostilities in the city.
The Philippine military had been engaged in clashes with the Abu Sayyaf Group and the Maute Group for months before the Marawi war broke. The Abu Sayyaf has links to ISIS. Its leader, Isnilon Hapilon, based in Basilan in the western part of Mindanao, reportedly brought some of his men to Lanao del Sur in late 2016 to join the Maute Group. [READ: Isnilon Hapilon is target of military operation in Marawi]
On May 23, 2017, fighting triggered by a military surgical strike against “high value targets” belonging to the two groups escalated into a siege of Marawi City. [READ: Maute Group waves ISIS black flag on Marawi streets]
This prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to call in more troops and declare martial law over the entire island of Mindanao. At the time, he cited the “existence of rebellion.” [READ: TIMELINE: Marawi clashes prompt martial law in all of Mindanao]
It was later revealed that the Mautes were also involved in drugs. On June 23, 2017, security forces reportedly recovered 11 kilos of suspected drugs from a fallen stronghold of Maute terrorists in Marawi.
In September 2017, President Duterte released a matrix linking the Mautes to the drug trade. At the time, however, Duterte admitted that the government was finding it hard to draw conclusions.
The claim that the seige started because the police went there to serve a warrant of arrest on one of the Mautes, for drugs came from President Duterte himself. In her commentary entitled, “In the name of drugs again,” Ellen Tordesillas of Vera Files noted that the President mentioned this in a speech he made before businessmen on October 19, 2017.
Duterte caused dismay among Moro leaders and security experts when he reiterated this again during his 2019 State of the Nation Address. In reference to the siege, he said “drug money killed 175 and wounded [2,101] of my soldiers and policemen in that 5-month battle.”
In that speech, Duterte made no further mention in his SONA of plans to rehabilitate the war-torn city, or of programs to curb terrorism. This is despite the recent emergence of suicide attacks in parts of Mindanao and the threat it presents to the rest of the country. – Rappler.com