Supreme Court (SC) Justice Mariano Del Castillo said Wednesday the Maute fighters seemed to have been prepared in carrying out attacks in Marawi City last May 23 that even the military seemed caught by surprise.
During the resumption of the oral arguments on the consolidated petitions assailing the martial law declaration, Del Castillo asked Solicitor General Jose Calida how come there was a "total failure of intelligence" on the part of the government.
“It seemed the Maute rebels are well prepared. Arms seem inexhaustible and there was one time several millions of pesos was recovered from a hideout. It takes time to have done what they did and I am surprised why the military never discovered all this," Del Castillo said.
Calida responded that intelligence gathering "is not perfect," likening it to a jigsaw puzzle where some parts are unclear.
"But one thing was clear, that [Abu Sayyaf] leader Isnilon] Hapilon was in Marawi," the top government lawyer said.
In the comment submitted by the Office of Solicitor General (OSG) to the high court on Monday, the government disclosed that intelligence reports on May 18 showed the local terror groups were planning to occupy Marawi City, and to raise the ISIS flag at the provincial capitol.
This intelligence report was confirmed through a video recovered by government forces in the lairs of the Maute group during the course of the military operation on May 23, showing the Abu Sayyaf group and Maute group leaders planning their attack of the city.
"It was also confirmed by military intelligence sources that the grand plan of the rebels was to raze the entire city of Marawi on the day of Ramadan, on May 26, 2017. The Marawi attack would have served as a precursor for other terrorist groups to stage their own uprising across Mindanao in a bid to simultaneously establish a wilayah [province] in the region," the OSG said.
"The planned attack, however, was foiled when the government troops conducted a raid in pursuit of Hapilon in Barangay Basak Malutlut. This forced the rebels to prematurely execute the Marawi siege," it added.
The SC is looking into the issue whether there is sufficient factual basis for the declaration of martial law in Mindanao, which the petitioners said did not exist.
The petitioners even pointed out that terrorism does not equate to rebellion, noting the attacks on Marawi City stemmed from an armed resistance by the Maute group to shield Hapilon from capture.
Calida refuted this claim, saying the joint police and military operation "actually pre-empted and foiled the plan of the terrorists to burn down down the city of Marawi and establish a wilayah (ISIS province)."
The government said martial law was necessary to quell rebellion since ISIS-inspired local rebel groups have taken up arms against the Philippine government for the purposes of removing Mindanao from its allegiance, and of depriving President Rodrigo Duterte of his powers and prerogatives. —GMA News