Duterte to Muslims: Help me bring peace to Mindanao

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Lumbayanague, Lanao del Sur (CNN Philippines) — Not even an ambush on his security men which raised concerns over his own safety could make the Commander-in-Chief call off his trip Wednesday to a war zone.

In fact, President Rodrigo Duterte even wanted to go right into the town center of Butig, where government forces have been engaged in a firefight with the Maute terror group for almost a week now.

"Alam mo [You know], I really wanted to go to where the structures of government were destroyed and occupied," Duterte said in remarks to troops in Butig.

Read: Military offensive vs. Maute group continues

The President's chopper landed at high noon in an open field here in this town of Lumbayanague, less than 10 kilometers from the battleground.

After a briefing on the situation in Butig, the President told his ground commanders: do what you need to do and carry on.

While speaking to his men, President Duterte also reached out to the people he called his brother and sister Moros.

It's an appeal he's reiterated a number of times - pleas for help to bring peace to this part of Mindanao, by working with him to help put an end to terror groups such as the Maute.

"I am pleading to my Moro brothers and sisters: please help us. We will build a nation," Duterte said.

In exchange for their support, he offered to restore the barter trade. "If you want I will restore the barter trade. I will open Zamboanga again. Walang problema iyan [That's no problem]," he said.

The President's visit comes as the military regains control of most parts of the town center of Butig, which the Maute group occupied on November 24.

Read: Maute group holds Lanao town under siege

But even as he called for a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Mindanao, he issued a stern warning if his appeal falls on deaf ears. 

"Ayaw kong makipag-away sa inyo. Ayaw kong makipagpatayan but please do not force my hand kasi may limit ho naman ang problema na ito," the President said. [I don't want to fight with you. I don't want to fight to the death. But please do not force my hand because our problems also have their limit.]

"I cannot be forever travelling here every month para lang makipag-usap at pagtalikod ko patayan na naman [...just to dialogue and when I turn my back, the killings start again]," he added.

"There has to be a timeline. It could be forever. It could be during my term. It could be beyond my term. But there is certain limit. And when that limit comes, I'll have to deal with you harshly," President Duterte said.

"Please do not force my hand into it. I do not want it. Pati ang droga because when the time comes it's going to be a war against terrorism and drugs. And I would tell you now: I will be harsh as harsh I can ever be," he added.

In a chance interview, we asked the President what he meant by being harsh.

He simply said, making decisions out of anger, which he pointed out, he wants to avoid doing.

Military spokesmen say that troops have driven away the bulk of the Maute force and have taken control of about 90 percent of Butig's poblacion.

The ISIS flag which was raised over some structures have been taken down.

Clearing operations continue even as troops pursue fleeing Maute members.