Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte told a group of wounded soldiers that he is ready to die with them as their commander-in-chief as he awarded each of the men a medal.
“I am here when you need your commander-in-chief to be with you, beside you, and to die with you,” Duterte told the troops, Inquirer.net reported, who were injured during a recent battle against the ISIS-linked militant Islamist group Abu Sayyaf in Patikul, Sulu, on May 31.
He conferred the Order of Lapu-Lapu with the Rank of Kampilan on 11 soldiers involved in the firefight, ABS-CBN reported, during a visit to the Camp General Teodulfo Bautista in Jolo, Sulu, where they are receiving treatment for their wounds.
According to Rappler, the Dutch photographer and birdwatcher Ewold Horn was killed during the skirmish. Horn was a hostage of Abu Sayyaf and the Philippines military believes he may have been executed while attempting to escape during the fighting.
Also discovered dead in the aftermath was Mingayan Sahiron, a wife of Abu Sayyaf’s terrorist leader Radullan Sahiron. Four members of Abu Sayyaf, a group known for its frequent kidnappings and deadly bombings, were killed.
In January, at least 20 people died and more than 100 were injured in a double bombing of a Catholic church in Jolo. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.
At the time, Duterte, who has waged a relentless war against Islamic extremist groups operating in The Philippines and doubled the salaries of soldiers, pledged to “pursue to the ends of the earth the ruthless perpetrators behind this dastardly crime until every killer is brought to justice and put behind bars. The law will give them no mercy.”
“The enemies of the state boldly challenged the government’s capability to secure the safety of citizens in that region,” continued Duterte. “The [Armed Forces of the Philippines] will rise to the challenge and crush these godless criminals.”
Away from the fight against Islamist extremism, Duterte has again captured attention for his outlandish and offensive statements, this time for comments about homosexuality made during a speech in Japan.
He claimed to have once been gay, but “cured” himself after entering into a relationship with his ex-wife, Elizabeth Zimmerman.
“When I began a relationship with Zimmerman, I said, this is it. I became a man again,” Duterte said, later adding: “Duterte is gay. So I am gay, I don’t care if I’m gay or not.”
Duterte has faced criticism from human rights groups for his brutal “war on drugs,” in which he has encouraged and condoned the extrajudicial killings of thousands of people by the security services and other armed groups.