Duterte warns of civil war in Mindanao
MANILA - Warning against "civil war" in Mindanao, President Duterte said on Tuesday the country's hope in stamping out the Maute terrorists lay in fast-tracking the peace process with Moro separatist groups.
Speaking to wounded soldiers in Cagayan De Oro, Mr. Duterte said that upon the continuation of the peace process, he would tell the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to deal with the threat posed by the Islamic State-inspired Maute Group and its Abu Sayyaf allies.
The President warned that should the violence unleashed by the Maute terrorists in Marawi spill over other parts of Mindanao, Christians would arm themselves and a civil or communal war could ensue between Christians and Muslims.
"That is why our hope there is fast-tracking the peace process and I will tell (MILF chair Al-Hajj) Murad (Ebrahim) and the MI(LF), 'You take care of that since that is the area you want-central Mindanao, Lanao, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat," Mr. Duterte said.
"Because if there's civil war, there would be killings. Here in Mindanao, there are more Christians and they have better guns. They are buying. The rich ones, they're stockpiling guns," he said.
"That's what's dangerous. To prevent a communal war, we really need to stop this…I did not expect (the number) of our casualties to be this high," he said, referring to the government casualties in Marawi.
The President said the armed forces would then have to deal not just with Maute terrorists but also armed Christians.
"That would be a mess because the Christians in Mindanao will also arm themselves. We cannot allow that because if civilians also arm themselves, it will be a civil war," Mr. Duterte said.
The President said the MILF and the Moro National Liberation Front had agreed to a federal form of government to address the historical grievances of the Moro people.
However, he noted that the Mautes' ideology was different from those of the two separatist groups because it was imported "from the Middle East" and concerned itself with "killings and violence."
"I said in my first command conference with your officials that I was looking at dark clouds ahead. Guard against the arrival of ISIS," he said.
Mr. Duterte said that he realised the situation was serious when Abu Sayyaf bandits-many of whom were Tausugs from the Sulu archipelago-and Maute Group members-many of whom were Maranao from Lanao-transcended their tribal loyalties and joined forces in Marawi.
"The fact that they were united, that's when I said, 'This is now dangerous,'" he said.
The President said he was reluctant to declare martial law all over Mindanao but not doing so would have compounded the problem.
"If I didn't declare martial law, we would face layers of problems that we might not be able to solve. Those who question martial law think that the problem is limited only here," he said.
"I really did not want to have martial law. I was only forced to do it because if I didn't, the mess in Mindanao would spread. We will then have a hard time," he added.