IS-inspired terrorists from the Maute group laid siege in Marawi City last May 23, torching several buildings including a Catholic cathedral and holding more than a dozen people hostage. AP Photo/Aaron Favila, File

Palace: Marawi won’t become new IS hub
Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - June 20, 2017 - 4:00pm

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang yesterday allayed concerns that Marawi City may become a hub of the extremist group Islamic State (IS), saying government troops were able to thwart a plan by the terrorists to carve out a caliphate in southern Philippines. 

IS-inspired terrorists from the Maute group laid siege in Marawi City last May 23, torching several buildings including a Catholic cathedral and holding more than a dozen people hostage.

While officials claimed that the Maute group is weakening, some US lawmakers are worried that Marawi City is becoming a hub for Southeast Asian extremists and want American troops to play a bigger role in the operations. At present, the US forces’ participation in the Marawi offensive is limited to providing technical assistance and intelligence information. 

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said there is no need to expand the US role in Marawi as the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has prevented the IS from taking over the city. 

“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 province in Marawi,” Abella said in a press briefing yesterday in Malacañang. 

“So the role of the US in relation to the IS is to provide technical assistance as prescribed by the Constitution and we will abide by that,” he added. 

The Constitution bars foreign troops from joining direct combat operations.

When asked if Malacañang is open to increasing the amount of assistance provided by the US to hasten the resolution of the conflict, Abella replied: “Let’s go by what is already present, technical assistance.”

When reminded about President Duterte’s earlier pronouncement that he did not want to see any foreign troops on Philippine soil, Abella replied the President “has accepted the situation at this stage.” 

Earlier this month, Duterte claimed he was not aware that the US was assisting security forces flushing out the Maute militants in Marawi. While thankful for the assistance, Duterte insisted that the Philippine troops could perform their mission without any help from foreign governments. 

The US has had a difficult relationship with the Philippines since Duterte assumed office last year. Former US president Barack Obama had criticized the spate of killings tied to Duterte’s war on illegal drugs, a move that the Philippine leader regarded as an intrusion into the country’s internal issues. 

Militant groups also warned against increasing the presence and involvement of US troops in Mindanao.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has signaled Washington’s intent to increase its involvement in the Philippines.?

“The US is now using the ISIS threat as pretext for permanent basing and increased US military intervention in the Philippines, in a clear effort to counter whatever is left of President Duterte’s pronouncement of upholding an independent foreign policy,” Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes said.

By hyping the threat of IS using the Philippines as an operations hub, Reyes said the US has found another reason to impose its agenda on the Philippines.

“What is outrageous, however, is that the so-called ISIS threat is itself a monstrosity created by the US as part of the destabilization of Syria. The US has no one to blame but itself for the rise of ISIS,” Reyes said.?Reyes said Duterte should not allow the involvement of US troops in fighting the local terrorists in Mindanao.

“Every time that the President allows US intervention in the country, he contributes to the weakening and possible demise of his own regime. Not only is he allowing the US to influence the situation in Mindanao, he is also allowing the US to shape foreign and domestic policy,” Reyes added. – Rhodina Villanueva

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