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Palace says Marawi unlikely to become new hub for ISIS fighters

Despite the fears of some American lawmakers, Malacañang said it would be unlikely for Marawi City to turn into a “hub” for ISIS fighters.

At a briefing in Malacañang on Tuesday, presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said the Armed Forces of the Philippines had been able to foil a plan of the ISIS-inspired Maute group to institute a caliphate in the said Islamic city in Lanao del Sur.

“At this state, we’ll have to take the position that it’s unlikely for Marawi to become a new hub for IS fighters. The Philippine military has already preempted the Maute group from establishing a wilayat or a province in Marawi,” he said.

The statement was made after an Associated Press report quoted United States lawmakers as expressing their openness for the US to take a bigger role in the Marawi operations.

But Abella said the role of the US in the offensive against the Maute would be in line with the Constitution.

“The role in the US is to provide technical assistance as prescribed by the Constitution and we will abide by that,” he said.

The US aid in the military operations came months after President Rodrigo Duterte clashed with the administration of former President Barack Obama over his war on drugs. But Duterte expressed optimism that he would be able to have a better relationship with incumbent President Donald Trump.

Malacañang, however, downplayed that the current Philippine-US cooperation against Maute in Marawi was a sign that the relationship was improving.

“It’s always existing like that. Gen. Padilla has expressed that that particular aspect of agreement has always [been] in existence,” Abella said, referring to AFP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr.

Duterte, who also said he did not want any secondhand equipment from the US military, previously revealed that he didn’t initially know about the US’ technical assistance in Marawi until American Special Forces were already giving aid.

“He’s accepted the situation at this stage,” Abella explained. — RSJ, GMA News