Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said in a press conference that he rejected a demand for safe passage issued by Muslim terrorists in exchange for hostages who include high-ranking Catholic clergyman, Father Teresito "Chito" Soganub, and other hostages in the southern Philippine city of Marawi.
Duterte said on Sept. 9 that his peace adviser Jesus Dureza had asked a former mayor to talk with the rebels. But, having conferred with his military advisers, Duterte, decided against safe passage for the rebel Muslims. In more than three months of combat, the army of the Philippines has lost more than 100 troops. Approximately 50 Muslim combatants are battling the army, which continues to tighten a noose around them in Marawi. According to military sources, the militants have kept the hostages alive throughout the more than 112 days of the battle, which has included aerial bombardment.
More than 800 people have died in three and a half months of fighting sparked by a botched attempt to arrest Isnilon Hapilon of the Muslim Abu Sayyaf group, which is a local franchise of the Islamic State. The conflict displaced close to 500,000 residents and transient traders on Mindanao Island.
Marawi City is on the coast of the southern island of Mindanao and is a nearly exclusively Muslim enclave. Shariah law is practiced in the city and environs. Martial law has reigned on Mindanao Island since May.
After stray bullets killed a government official and wounded another near the state university, where classes had recently resumed, Duterte admitted that he expects Mindanao to remain a flashpoint of Muslim terror. "There will be no peace in Mindanao for a long time," the president admitted at an island-wide business conference on Sept. 9. "What is happening in Marawi seems to have stretched the trouble farther than we expected," the president said.
The United States has beefed up military aid to the Philippines, announcing on Sept. 11 that it was deploying Gray Eagle drones, which have extended flight duration and broad range of surveillance over Marawi City. The US has given The Philippines over $300 million worth of assistance to establish better command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities for the Philippine armed forces. According to the US embassy, American military forces are committed to a quick response to the Philippines' urgent defense and counter-terrorism needs, which include an ongoing threat from China.
In May, a video released by the Amaq news agency operated by ISIS showed Muslim terrorists engaging in combat with security forces. They bore a motley collection of arms, including rocket launchers, sniper rifles, and various automatic weapons. They also had some armored vehicles. Video showed Christians who converted to Islam. The time-honored practice of Islamic warfare allows non-believers to convert to Islam in exchange for their lives.