Philippines leader Rodrigo Duterte has offered Muslim separatists and Maoists to join the fight against Islamic State-linked militants attempting to gain a foothold in the country. Duterte promised to treat them as soldiers and offered them the “same privileges.”
The leader made the announcement on Saturday while visiting an army base on Jolo Island in Sulu province. Philippine troops are currently battling Abu Sayyaf jihadist militants, who have pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) on the island.
“I will hire you as soldiers – same pay, same privileges, and I will build houses for you in some areas,” Duterte said, addressing separatist groups, according to a video released on Sunday, Reuters and local media report.
Duterte made the offer to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) which both fight for the independence of the Muslim Moro people, who constitute about 5 percent of the Philippine population.
Both groups have signed numerous deals with the Philippine government since the 1960s, but the agreements have not been fully implemented.
According to the Philippine president, the idea of separatists and troops fighting together against jihadists came from Nur Misuari, the founder and leader of the MNLF. He said that Misuari sent him a letter, saying that MNLF fighters could volunteer to join the fighting in the city of Marawi and other parts of Lanao del Sur province.
Since Tuesday, armed forces have been clashing with Maute jihadists linked to Islamic State who have taken over large parts of the city of Marawi on the island of Mindanao.
He also made a similar offer to the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). Duterte asked the Maoists to abandon their guerrilla war and work with the authorities.
“If this drags on, and you want to join, take your chance with the Republic [of the Philippines],” Duterte said.
There has been no reaction from leaders of the separatist groups so far.
The fighting on Mindanao erupted following a raid on the alleged hideout of Isnilon Hapilon, a head of Abu Sayyaf. In 2014, Hapilon pledged allegiance to IS.
The majority of Marawi’s 200,000 residents have fled, but 2,000 remain trapped in areas controlled by the fighters, Zia Alonto Adiong, spokesman for the provincial crisis management committee, said on Sunday, as cited by AFP.
“They want to leave. They are afraid for their safety. Some are running out of food to eat. They fear they will be hit by bullets, by airstrikes,” he said.
Deaths in Marawi have now exceeded 100, with the number including at least 27 civilians and 61 terrorists.