MANILA, June 20 – Malacañang on Tuesday said Marawi City is unlikely to turn into a new hub for extremist fighters from Southeast Asia as it downplayed concerns raised by several American lawmakers due to presence of foreign militants in the area.
At a Palace briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) had been able to thwart the ISIS-inspired Maute group from taking over the whole of Marawi and making it as base for Islamic State operations.
“At this stage, we’ll have to take the position that it’s unlikely for Marawi to become a new hub for IS fighters. The Philippine military has already preempted the Maute group from establishing a wilayat or a province in Marawi,” Abella said.
The Palace official issued the statement after some US lawmakers expressed their belief that the US should take a bigger role in the Marawi operations to prevent the spread of the extremist group’s reach in the region.
At present, the role of the US in the month-old crisis is limited to providing aerial surveillance and Malacañang wants it to stay that way.
“The role of the US is to provide technical assistance as prescribed by the Constitution and we will abide by that. Let’s go by what is already present, technical assistance,” Abella said.
He also downplayed suggestions that Philippine-US cooperation against extremist forces in Marawi was indicative of an improving relationship.
“It’s always existing like that. Gen. Padilla has expressed that particular aspect of agreement has always [been] in existence,” Abella said, referring to AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr.
The Palace official likewise said that President Rodrigo Duterte has accepted the technical assistance being provided the US in the war against terror.
“He’s accepted the situation at this stage,” Abella said. (Cielito M. Reganit/PNA)