Duterte defends Philippine troops accused of looting in Marawi siege
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday rejected allegations by a rights group that troops engaged in looting during the bloody battle against Islamic State followers in the southern city of Marawi.
Duterte also assured soldiers he would protect their interests following claims by Amnesty International that they committed abuses during the five-month battle in Marawi that left over 1,000 people dead.
“Those [allegations] of stealing in Marawi, I don’t believe it. I was there. I know,” he told soldiers wounded in the siege.
Duterte, who frequently met soldiers during the operation, said it was understandable if they had used a civilian’s electric fan to combat the heat.
“But I don’t believe my soldiers are thieves. Where would they put [stolen items]?” he said.
Amnesty International released a report last week which claimed that troops looted televisions, antiques and computers.
The fiery president said he did not believe such allegations.
“Especially these human rights [groups]. All they do is talk. Forget them. I’ll handle everything,” Duterte said.
He did not mention Amnesty’s more serious claims, that soldiers had detained and tortured civilians trying to flee the besieged southern city during the fighting.
Duterte, elected last year, has long clashed with human rights organisations over his bloody anti-drugs campaign which has claimed thousands of lives.
He has also showered praise on the military. In his speech, he reiterated his promise to double their salaries by next year and provide them with new guns and equipment including 23 attack helicopters.
Military spokesman Major-General Restituto Padilla previously conceded that an officer and five soldiers were being investigated for allegedly taking appliances from the battle zone.
He said such cases were probably “isolated incidents”.
Hundreds of local and foreign gunmen who had pledged allegiance to Islamic State rampaged through Marawi, the principal Islamic city in the mainly Catholic Philippines, starting on May 23.
US Defence Secretary James Mattis last month praised the Philippine military, saying they had upheld human rights during the brutal urban battle.