DATU PAGLAS, Maguindanao—Government forces stopped a group of gunmen that were offered P100,000 a head from going to Marawi City to reinforce Maute group terrorists holed up there.
Col. Bismarck Soliba, commander of the 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade, said government security forces acted on information from some locals that armed men were set to reinforce the Maute group in Lanao.
On Wednesday, Lt. Col. Harold M Cabunoc of the Army’s 33rd Infantry Battalion, led the troopers in an early morning firefight against members of the Bangsamoro Freedom Fighters, who reportedly signed up to rescue Maute terrorists on fat offers of P 100,000 for each recruit.
After an hour, government security forces captured four armed men and seized from them six high-powered firearms, consisting of two cal. 50 Barrette sniper rifles, an M60 machine gun, one RPG, an M14 rifle and an M16 rifle.
Many of the fatalities in Marawi bore head wounds from long-range sniper shots.
Cabunoc presented the captured BIFF men and the seized high-powered firearms, saying the combined troopers of the Army’s 33rd Infantry Battalion and of the 4th Special Action Battalion of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force chanced upon the BIFF fighters Wednesday morning.
Cabunoc said the four men, whose identities were withheld pending filing of charges, would be turned over immediately to the local police for proper processing.
On Thursday, President Rodrigo Duterte denied negotiating with members of the Islamic State-linked Maute group.
“No, I did not. He is a pretender,” the President said, referring to an intermediary, Agakhan Sharief also known as “Bin Laden,” who claimed he was approached by a senior Duterte aid to use his connections with the Maute group to start backchannel talks. “I will never talk to criminals and to terrorists.”
He said, however, that it is possible that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front or the Moro National Liberation Front could have initiated talks with the Maute group.
“But if it’s from me, that’s impossible. So many soldiers and policemen have been killed, so they better not make up these stories,” he added in Filipino.
Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella, meanwhile, said it was the Maute matriarch who called for backchannel talks with Duterte.
In a chance interview, Abella said there was an attempt by Ominta Romato “Farhana” Maute, mother of Maute group leaders Omarkhayam and Abdullah, to hold talks with Duterte, but the President rejected this.
“They offered backchannel talks, not the President, who turned the offer down,” Abella said.
In a Reuters report, an intermediary, Agakhan Sharief, also known as “Bin Laden” claimed that he was approached by a senior Duterte aide to use his connections with the Maute militant group’s leaders to start backchannel talks.
Also on Thursday, the city council of Taguig passed a resolution approving the release of P1.5 million for calamity assistance for Marawi City.
The resolution said the local council of Marawi declared the city under a state of calamity through Resolution No. 60, after Maute group terrorists overran the city on May 23 and the military moved in to oust them.
The city council added that over 30,000 families or 140,000 individuals were displaced as a result, while properties were “severely damaged.”
“We are very eager in helping our brothers and sisters. We want them to feel that they are not alone in this battle. We want this simple act to give them hope in their hearts,” Mayor Lani Cayetano, who urged the council to provide the needed assistance to Marawi, said. With PNA
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