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President Rodrigo Duterte condoles with families of slain soldiers in Zamboanga City on Wednesday, August 31, 2010. (Photos by Michael Rey Baniquet)

President Rodrigo Duterte condoles with families of slain soldiers in Zamboanga City on Wednesday, August 31, 2010. (Photos by Michael Rey Baniquet)

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ZAMBOANGA CITY – President Rodrigo Duterte flew to Zamboanga City on Wednesday to meet with the families of soldiers slain in fierce clashes with Abu Sayyaf militants in the southern Sulu province where security forces are battling the jihadist group linked to the Islamic State.

Duterte, accompanied by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Philippine military chief General Ricardo Visaya, promised to help the widows and their children – providing them with scholarship program and government aid – to cope with their losses. 

The military said 15 soldiers were killed and over a dozen more wounded in the fighting.

Duterte branded the Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist group after one of the soldiers had been beheaded during the clashes in Sulu, one of 5 provinces under the Muslim autonomous region.

“I am sorry that this has to happen. I do not want it happen again kung maari lang at saka may pakiusap ako at kung hindi lang man tayo magkaintindihan eh huwag mo naman ganoon mga style na sirain mo ang katawan ng tao, wala sa akin yan, eh lalaki tayo,” he said.

The President was referring to the mutilation of the soldier believed to be Pfc. Jison Falcasantos.

“At may mga tao na ayaw…they don’t give maskin konting pag-asa lang na magkaroon tayo ng kapayapaan. I don’t have any problem with Nur, we have agreed in principle na mag-usap para to resolve the conflict history of the Mindanao,” he said, referring to Misuari, the chieftain of the former rebel group Moro National Liberation Front, who he spoke on the phone before coming to Zamboanga.

“Wala na akong problema sa iba eh, pero may problema ako sa Abu Sayyaf because they are terrorists and their killings, putulan ng ulo sa harap ng mundo sibilyan o sundalo, you know I hate to say this, ang lola ko Maranao, Moro kaya every time na may bakbakan malalaman mo dito, nasasaktan talaga ako,” Duterte said.

Duterte also spoke about the brief history of Muslims in the Philippines and blamed Spanish colonizers for the unrest in Mindanao. He also offered the Muslims a federal state in the country if it would bring peace and stability in the restive region.

“Gawain natin itong Pilipinas na magustuhan ng lahat, walang nalulugi. Ngayon kung mag-usap tayo at gusto talaga ng mga kapatid natin dito sa Moro side gusto nila Federal system eh di okay. Ano kasalanan natin na magpapatayan tayo na walang…we know, I know and ang Christians know na dito sa Mindanao nauna ang Moro dito na relihiyon Muslim by 100 years…bago dumating ang Kristiyanismo, but that alone hindi natin kasalanan, ang nag-umpisa nito ang mga Espaniol na nagpunta dito 1571 they landed in Leyte bringing their religion Christian and then ang Amerikano cultivated Mindanao, and tapos sabi come to Mindanao because it is the Land of the Promise, anong kasalanan namin?,” he asked in front of the families of the widows and soldiers.

The country was also colonized by the United States after the Spaniards.

Duterte said the widows’ family would be enrolled on the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) so they can receive financial aid every month, and ordered the Department of the Interior and Local Government to employ the wives of the slain soldiers if they do not have any job.

“Kaya kayong mga pamilya automatic yan, out of endearments o makita sa pagmamahal ng isang bayani, enrol kayong automatic mga biyuda sa 4Ps then I have directed itong DILG, hanapin lang ninyo kung saan ang yun regional office at may directive ako diyan.”

“Yun biyuda tanggapin sa gobyerno isang empleyado at yun lahat ng anak ninyo, i-enrol lang ninyo at ako ang magbayad o paalamin niyo lang ako o sabihin mo doon sa eskwelahan sabi ni Presidente Duterte mag-enrol kami dito tapos paalamin mo siya at doon ka mag-kubra sa kanya…state colleges or schools,” he said.

Duterte then met with the bereaved families and condoled with the m and embraced the widows. He even kissed a photographed of one of the slain Muslim soldiers in front of his family and saluted at the flag-draped coffins. He also visited the wounded soldiers and pinned them medals.

Security officials also briefed Duterte on the progress of the military operations against the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu, but details of the closed-door meeting were not released to the media.

But Duterte said he spoke with Misuari – who is currently in hiding in Sulu after authorities implicated him in deadly attacks by his followers in Zamboanga City in 2013 – wanted to meet with him in Malaysia and resume the peace talks with the government on the condition that the meeting would be brokered by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to which the MNLF is a regular observer in the influential body.

Duterte has ordered police and military to allow Misuari to move freely and without fear of being arrested.

“Well, if there is a warrant of arrest all I have to do is not implement it against him because if you arrest Misuari, you place him under the custody of the police diyan sa…and he dies for whatever reason, kumpromiso na tayo. Then there’s not gonna be a…mahirapan na tayo mag…He is the only known leader who has the influence and the structure, nobody else,” Duterte said.

“I told him, Nur, I have no intention of detaining you or placing you in the custody of the government. You can simply walk out there, ask any soldier and police to escort you. Kung saan ako, mag-usap tayo,” he added.

There was no immediate statement from Zamboanga City officials led by Mayor Beng Climaco who are pursuing the criminal charges against Misuari and all those involved in the siege. (Mindanao Examiner)

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