MANILA, Philippines — As soon after fighting broke out between extremist gunmen and government troops in Marawi City on May 23, authorities said the violence was triggered by an operation to serve a warrant of arrest on Abu Sayyaf commander Isnilon Hapilon.
However, four months later and with fighting still raging in Marawi, President Rodrigo Duterte claimed the subject of the warrant was a “drug personality.”
“Marawi, what precipitated — what was the flashpoint of Marawi? They were serving a warrant for the arrest of a drug personality. There was a firefight and lumabas na nga ‘yung totoo (and the truth emerged),” he said at the 120th anniversary celebration of the Department of Justice on Tuesday, September 26.
He also admitted being unaware of how large and well-equipped a force they were up against in Marawi.
“Now, we admit that … We knew that they had firearm(s), but I never expected that it would be that enormous. On the third month … going (on the) fourth, they have still the ordnance and the bullets, at ang lahat. May mga Barrett (sniper rifles) pa sila (and everything. They even have Barretts).”
The violence in Marawi prompted Duterte to declare the whole of Mindanao under martial law. Congress has since authorized and the Supreme Court upheld its extension until the end of the year.
Before his revelation on Tuesday, Duterte, who has also been waging a war on drugs that has opened him to accusations of encouraging extrajudicial killings, claimed drug money was funding terrorism in the country, including the gunmen in Marawi.
Recently, he also bared a matrix of alleged drug personalities, among them local government officials including the late Ozamis City Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog who was among 15 persons killed in police drug raids, who he claimed were funding the Marawi gunmen.