Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana claimed that international terror group ISIS was behind the attack in Marawi City while the Armed Forces of the Philippines insisted that there is no ISIS presence in the country. AP/Bullit Marquez

Confusion over conflicting statements on Marawi crisis
Patricia Lourdes Viray (philstar.com) - May 24, 2017 - 5:25am

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 1:33 p.m.) — The Philippine government issued conflicting statements over the situation of Marawi City, painting a confusing picture after a clash between government troops and a local terror group.

President Rodrigo Duterte has declared martial law in Mindanao in response to clashes in Marawi City that began Tuesday afternoon.

Maute Group, a group inspired by the international terrorist Islamic State, reportedly laid siege to Marawi City.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) insisted that the Islamic State or ISIS does not have presence in the country.

Though the Maute pledged allegiance to the ISIS, there is no evidence that the international group has provided the local extremists with resources, experts say.

"'Pag pinapangalanan natin ang local terrorist group, pinapapogi natin sila, pinapasikat natin sila (When we call them ISIS, we are making them famous). We don't have ISIS in the Philippines," Col. Edgard Arevalo, AFP public affairs chief, said.

LIVE updates: Martial Law in Mindanao

The secretary of defense, however, has a different take on the issue.

"It is actually Maute or ISIS because they are the same," Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a press briefing.

Lorenzana added that he believes that the attack in Marawi City has international backing.

"There have been reports that came to me from Baghdad that they are already seeing these pictures in the website of ISIS," the defense chief said.

Southeast Asia security analyst Zachary Abuza, a professor at the National War College in Washington, said there is no evidence to date that the IS has given the Maute resources.

Asked why the president declared martial law over all of Mindanao, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella only said, "Well, that is the declaration of the president, all right?"

"Because there are also problems in Zamboanga, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi and also in Central Mindanao, in the BIFF area," Lorenzana said.

Meanwhile, Marawi Mayor Majul Usman Gandamra said that the attackers were a combined group of members of Maute and Abu Sayyaf.

On Marawi situation

Lorenzana and Gandamra also gave conflicting statements on the situation of the city. The Defense secretary claimed that that Marawi city hall was burned while the mayor said that it was not.

Gandamra also refused to comment on whether the local terror group took hostages. The mayor said that the attack in his city was just a diversionary tactic.

Marawi Bishop Edwin dela Peña, on the other hand, said that the local terror group abducted a priest and churchgoers after burning down the Cathedral of Our Lady Help of Christians.

"Kinuha nila 'yung aming pari, saka 'yung aming secretary, 'yung dalawang working student tapos parokyano namin na nag-novena lang kahapon," Dela Peña said in an interview with radio dzBB.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) confirmed that Suganob and others were in the cathedral when members of Maute group forced their way into the cathedral and took the priest and others as hostages.

"They have threatened to kill the hostages if the government forces unleashed against them are not recalled," CBCP President Socrates Villegas said in a statement.

The AFP has called on the public to refrain from sharing photos and videos on movements of government troops and terrorist propaganda so as not to aggravate the situation.

"We fervently urge our people to refrain from posting in social media information that would tend to exacerbate the situation," Arevalo said.

Gandamra also said that the photos and videos being shared on social media were just propaganda and were only isolated cases.

"Pinapakita nila (Maute group) na sula ang in control but 'yan po ay isolated cases," Gandamra said in a telephone interview with ANC.

The mayor said that the situation is still under control of the government despite the attack. He noted that the declaration of martial law in the whole region is timely.

RELATED: Mindanao martial law to be like Marcos', says Duterte

On length of martial law

The Constitution allows the president to declare martial law over any part of the country in cases of rebellion or invasion for a period not exceeding 60 days.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Malacañang issued statements indicating the same, but for President Rodrigo Duterte, it seems the declaration will remain as long as necessary.

"How long? Well... if it would take a year to do it, then we will do it. If it's over within a month, then I'll be happy," Duterte said in a Facebook live video taken in Moscow on Wednesday morning by Assistant Communications Secretary Mocha Uson.

The 1987 charter requires the president to report to Congress within 48 hours from the proclamation. The Congress then will put the policy on a vote, and may choose to revoke it.

Congress may also allow the president to extend the proclamation "if the invasion or rebellion shall persist and public safety requires it."

Constitutional expert Christian Monsod, however, disputes the application of "rebellion" in the armed clashes between government forces and the Maute group in the southern city.

"The crime of rebellion or insurrection is committed by rising publicly and taking arms against the government for the purpose of removing from the allegiance to said Government or its laws, the territory of the Republic of the Philippines or any part thereof, of any body of land, naval or other armed forces, or depriving the Chief Executive or the Legislature, wholly or partially, of any of their powers or prerogatives," Monsod said on ANC, quoting the Revised Penal Code. — with reports from Camille Diola

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