Duterte’s bodyguards ambushed in southern Philippines on eve of president’s trip
Seven military bodyguards of President Rodrigo Duterte and two other soldiers were wounded yesterday in an ambush by suspected Islamic militants on the eve of his planned visit to the southern Philippines, the military and president said.
Military spokesmen said a bomb hit the soldiers’ convoy as it drove on a road in a southern region where an armed group which had pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS) operate, wounding nine.
“My advance party was ambushed a while ago. The Presidential Security Group was hit by an IED (improvised explosive device),” Duterte said in a speech during a visit to a northern Philippines military camp.
“But I’m going there. The advice was to postpone [the trip], but I said no. We are taking the same route if possible,” Duterte added without explaining the purpose of his trip. “Maybe we can have a little gunfight here, gunfight there,” he added.
The convoy that was attacked in Marawi city also included local troops as well as staff members of the presidential communications office, military officials said, adding that there were no civilians wounded.
“The truck carrying the president’s advance security detail was hit by an improvised explosive device,” Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters in Manila. “There was no firefight.”
The planned Duterte visit came days after the military began operations against dozens of armed members of the Maute group holed up in an abandoned government building in the mainly Muslim rural town of Butig on Mindanao island.
Some 40 militants from the Maute group have been killed during an air-and-ground assault on the old municipal building they have occupied since Saturday, said military spokesman Colonel Edgard Arevalo.
The defence secretary said he would advise the president to cancel his visit.
“It’s still not under control,” Lorenzana said, adding the military was trying to validate links between local groups and IS.
Butig is about 800km south of Manila, and an hour-long drive from Marawi.
At least 15 soldiers were injured in the fighting while 35 militants were killed, military spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla said.
The ambush also came a day after the police said the Maute group left a bomb near the US embassy in Manila which authorities later safely exploded.
Police said a man driving a taxi stopped near the embassy during the night and placed something in a rubbish bin.
The same Maute gang was also blamed for a bombing in Duterte’s home town in the southern city of Davao in September that killed 15 people.
Padilla said it was likely the Maute group was behind yesterday’s ambush: “We know their supporters are surrounding
the area and possibly planted bombs on the side of the roads
to disrupt the movement of troop reinforcements.”
Muslim groups have waged a decades-long armed independence struggle in the south of the mainly Catholic Philippines.
On Monday, Duterte said IS had linked up with the Maute gang, a departure from previous military denials of formal links between IS and local extremist groups.
Additional reporting by Reuters