President Duterte has claimed that a cousin of his fought and died alongside terrorists in Marawi City.
At a celebration of the Islamic feast Eid’l Fitr at the Malacañang this week, the president said: “I have cousins with the Maute. Because they were there, a cousin of mine died. They went there, a truckload of them.
“The presidential security group were wondering who they were, and I said, ‘Those are my cousins, let them be’.”
In an interview with Rappler’s Maria Ressa last December, the president claimed that some of his cousins may have pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State.
He said: “To be frank, I have cousins on the other side, with Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Moro National Liberation Front. Some, I heard, are with ISIS.”
During his Eid speech, the president appeared to be saying that he met with some of his other cousins who had joined the fighting. “There, we talked. Others went for the sake of adventure or I do not know what. I said, don’t go there, you won’t get anything.”
An unheralded visit to Mindanao would fit with earlier statements by the president that he had been travelling “incognito” during his recent periods of absence, which were officially described as “rest” breaks.
The president also said that the death of his cousin meant that the crisis in Marawi was a cause of personal pain.
“If you ask me if I am happy, I am not,” he said. “I am also bleeding like you. That’s why I do not even want to talk about it even with the Cabinet because I am hurt.
“I am not happy that Maranaos are dying. I am not happy with what you are suffering now. I don’t see any satisfaction even in winning the war. I just wanted this thing over and those radicals out of the Muslim world.”
To the room full of Muslim leaders, government peace negotiators, and Cabinet officials, the president renewed his promise to rebuild Marawi City.
“One thing I will promise you, my brother Moro, I will see to it that Marawi will rise as a prosperous city again,” he said. “I will again rebuild Marawi because, if not, I will remain forever the bad guy.”
He also defended his decision to declare martial law across the whole of Mindanao. He insisted that he had the “complete picture” and “perfected intelligence” of the conflict even though he was in Russia when it broke out.
“When I declared martial law, I was in Moscow, I knew everything. I knew how long it would take for us and I knew the deployment of snipers and where they hid their arms. I already had the complete picture and I knew that it would be a long fight,” he said.
The Eid celebration was Duterte’s first public appearance in seven days.