MANILA, Philippines — “Had we known” exactly when the Maute group and its fellow extremists would strike in Marawi, Philippine National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa said he and other security officials would not have joined President Rodrigo Duterte in his abbreviated visit to Russia last month.
The government now claims it knew beforehand of plans by the Maute and other extremist groups to occupy Marawi City as part of efforts to establish an Islamic State “caliphate” on Mindanao.
This position was enunciated by Solicitor General Jose Calida in his response to petitions questioning the declaration of martial law in Mindanao before the Supreme Court.
Calida said government received intelligence reports of the plot to seize Marawi as early as May 18, or four days before what would have been Duterte’s four-day visit to Russia. However, he cut short his visit and rushed back on May 23, hours after fighting broke out in Marawi, but not before signing Proclamation No. 216 placing the whole of Mindanao under martial law and suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus over the whole island.
It is now government’s contention that the operation to arrest Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, who authorities say is the emerging “emir” of the Islamic State, disrupted the extremists’ plot.
Dela Rosa, who was with Duterte in Russia, told reporters they, too, knew early on about the Maute group’s plan except for “the exact time of the attack, kung kailan nila i-carry out ang (when they would carry out the) siege of Marawi.”
“Had we known ‘yung timing na ‘yun, siguradong hindi kami sasama (the timing, we surely would not have gone along)” to Russia, he added.
But in Malacañang, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella had a different take, insisting that security and defense officials “were all on top of the situation, they were actually monitoring” developments on the ground.
“I think it’s not a question of failure (of intelligence) or what … from our point of view we were able to stop something that could have been much, much bigger,” Abella said.