MALACAÑANG has denied reports that President Rodrigo Duterte had consulted a Muslim leader to act as mediator between the government and the Maute terror group to end the crisis in Marawi City.
Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said Thursday, July 6, that the government is firm in its resolve not to offer any reconciliatory talks with the Maute members who laid siege to Marawi on May 23 to turn it into an enclave of Islamic State fighters in Southeast Asia.
"We'd like to address the claims of Agakhan Sharief. Up to this point, we have no verified reports that there were efforts to initiate such actions as Agakhan Sharief claims," Abella said in a press conference.
"Let me be clear that the position of the Palace and the President is not to negotiate with terrorists, including these local terrorist groups, which intended to establish a state within the Philippine state and to remove allegiance to the government of the Philippines and the chief executive of the city of Marawi and its residents," he added.
Sharief, a clergyman who had been involved in various peace agreements in Mindanao, claimed that a "senior Duterte aide" approached him to use his connections to conduct back-channel talks with the terrorists.
In an exclusive report by Reuters, Sharief said that Duterte had initial plans to come to terms with Maute brothers Omar and Abdullah but later on backed out sans explanation.
"The problem with our President, his mind is always changing. He announced he will no longer talk to terrorists and that made our negotiations cut," Sharief was quoted as saying.
Three days after the President declared martial rule in Mindanao on May 23, he expressed openness to hold a dialogue with the Maute group to resolve the differences and restore normalcy in Marawi City.
He, however, recanted his statement on May 31, citing the "tremendous losses" of security forces in the battle in the besieged city as the primary reason to terminate his plan for possible peace deal.
"I will not talk to anybody. I will not talk to the terrorists," said Duterte at the 119th anniversary of the Philippine Navy in Davao City.
Abella said the President does not want to engage Maute fighters in a peace pact because they "constitute rebellion, submit [themselves] to a foreign leader involved to a dangerous ideology that is inimical to the well-being of our Filipinos, including Muslim Filipinos."
"The President is committed to what is just, fair, and equitable. And he stands against what is criminal, corrupt, and dangerous to the people and to the next generation," he said.
Duterte, in his speeches delivered amid Marawi siege, repeatedly asserted that martial law in Mindanao will not end until the last terrorist is wiped out.
In his July 4 impromptu speech, he reiterated his commitment to end terror threats hurling Mindanao.
"For as long as there is one terrorist there in Marawi, it will not end," he said. "Months before, I was telling you, I'm warning the nation: Do not force my and into it because if I will declare martial law, we will really finish it." (SunStar Philippines)