Despite the ambush of his advance party on Tuesday in Marawi City, President Duterte still pushed through with his visit in Lanao del Sur on Wednesday to personally assess the situation of government troopers involved in on-going military operations against the Maute Group, a terror group that attacked the town of Butig six days ago.
Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) said the President was in the AFP’s (Armed Forces of the Philippines) tactical command post in Lumbayanague town in Lanao del Sur on Wednesday.
Westmincom spokesperson Major Felimon Tan said President Duterte personally checked the situation of government troopers directly involved in the military operations against the Maute Group.
Lumbayanague is a fourth class municipality in Lanao del Sur located near Lake Lanao and adjacent to Butig town.
“Early today, President Rodrigo Duterte along with a few advisers visited troops of the 103rd Brigade who are at the forefront of the fight against members of a local terrorist group known locally as the Maute Group,” the AFP said in a separate statement on Wednesday.
He was accompanied by Secretary Delfin Lorenzana of the Department of National Defense and other top officers of the AFP.
The AFP said the President had a closed door briefing and meeting with security officials. He also met with the troops and the local officials in the area.
“He encouraged the troops to persevere and do their work with the guarantee of his all out support. He also mentioned that as the President of the Republic, he has in mind the welfare of all the people and the entire nation and very much wants peace to reign all over the land but not at the expense of peace loving citizens,” the AFP added.
President Duterte also went to Camp Evangelista Station Hospital in Cagayan de Oro on Wednesday afternoon to visit the wounded troopers involved in the continuing military operations.
When interviewed by the media after checking the conditions of the wounded soldiers, the President said he is doing everything to prevent war.
“Sana huwag na lang tayong umabot ng giyera,” he stressed, but warned the Maute group: “Do not force my hands to do it.”
He said the military operations will go on.
“What is there to stop? Wala naman nagpapakita ng sincerity d’yan so the fight goes on,” President Duterte pointed out.
The President’s advance forces, mostly composed of the members of Presidential Security Group were waylaid on Tuesday as their convoy was proceeding to Marawi City.
Reports said an improvised electronic devise (IED) exploded along the highway when the convoy of the President’s advance party passed through.
Nine government troopers were hurt during the ambush, seven of whom were members of the PSG while the two others were members of the army.
Old municipal hall retaken
Westmincom said about 85 to 90% of the Poblacion area of Butig, including the old municipal building was already retaken by the government troopers.
Tan said a total of 35 soldiers were wounded in the continuing military action; 61 Maute Group members were already killed and 12 were wounded.
He added that operations in the ground are still ongoing as of Wednesday afternoon.
The AFP, in a statement on Wednesday expressed elation over the report that government troopers successfully retaken Butig from the control of Maute Group.
“It was not without the cost of life and limb of the lawless terrorist Maute Group, and the sweat and blood of our soldiers. But it has to be so to ensure that our people will live peacefully knowing that their soldiers are there to protect them,” Col. Edgard Arevalo, chief of the Public Affairs Office (PAO) of the AFP said in a separate statement.
He added that AFP chief of staff General Ricardo Visaya also expressed elation over the positive results of the military operations.
“In order to fully defeat the enemies of the state however, we need the support and cooperation of our people. We exhort them to be vigilant and resist the influence of terrorists and lawless groups,” Arevalo said.