MANILA, Philippines — The government will not negotiate the release of the parents of the Maute brothers for the freedom of a Catholic priest held hostage by extremist gunmen battling government forces in Marawi City for over a month now, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said Tuesday.
At the same time, Abella said if reports Isnilon Hapilon has fled Marawi are true, it would prove that the Abu Sayyaf commander, reportedly named the “emir” of the Islamic State in Southeast Asia, is a coward.
News reports said religious leaders who met with Abdullah Maute, one of the brothers who founded the extremist group the government has taken to calling after their name, during brief ceasefire marking Eid’l Fitr Sunday were told that the gunmen would be amenable to releasing Fr. Teresito “Chito” Suganob if government released his parents, Cayamora and Okinta.
The elder Mautes were captured early this month, soon after fighting broke out in Marawi City beween their sons’ followers and government forces. The battle continues to this day, more than a month after it started.
Abella said it is “government’s policy not to negotiate with terrorists remains. Hence, the local religious leader-led talks with terrorists last Sunday is one that is not sanctioned by the government.”
However, this statement appeared to contradict that of assistant peace adviser Dickson Hermoso, who described Sunday’s talks as a humanitarian negotiation to secure the release of civilians still trapped or held hostage by the extremists in Marawi.
As for reports Hapilon has escaped from Marawi, Abella said, “granting that this is true it would be a clear sign of his cowardice because he abandoned his companions and has run away from the battle.”
It may also be an indicative of the infighting that may now be going on within the group,” he added. “It may be a matter of time before they disintegrate or self-destruct.”
Click and watch these two video clips of Sec. Abella, speaking from Malacañang, below: