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Moment of Clarity in Marawi and the War on Terrorism

Oct 19 2017 (Manila Times) - “Wars are always clarifying” is a line that I jotted down from a column in the New York Times that was written two years after the attack on the twin towers on September 11, 2001. The subject was ostensibly “9/11” and the war on terrorism that it set off (Thomas Friedman wrote the line).

Today, with the news that Marawi has been officially liberated and that terrorist leaders Ismail Hapilon and Omar Khayyam Maute have been pronounced dead, I am trying in my own fashion to decipher what the five-month Marawi conflict has clarified – so that our country and our people can better learn from it, and I can write with more comprehension of events and developments in the South.

Yen Makabenta

Another writer, the former education minister and public intellectual William J. Bennett, contended that Americans discovered a moment of moral clarity in the wake of 9/11—a moment when good was distinguished from evil, truth from falsehood, and when Americans rediscovered themselves as one people.

“9/11” was one challenge for the American people. Marawi was another challenge for the Filipino people and our republic.

Raising the flag of the Islamic State
Marawi City, the premier Muslim city of the Philippines, was attacked by Filipino and foreign Islamic terrorists on Tuesday, May 23.

During the siege, armed men took over vital installations in Marawi City, including schools, hospitals, mosques and commercial establishments. They looted banks and financial offices. They replaced the Philippine flag with a black flag of the Islamic State, in an open declaration of their intent to establish a caliphate in Southeast Asia. It was seen by some analysts as an effort to compensate for battleground losses in Syria and Iraq, where the IS would eventually lose in succession their strongholds in Mosul and Raqa.

The timing of the siege was precise; the terrorists staged their attack when President Duterte was in Russia on a state visit and a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. They hoped to catch the armed forces unprepared, and to throw the country into confusion.

Filipinos answer the challenge

Not unlike the Americans, Filipinos responded to the siege of Marawi with complete resolve to prevail in the confrontation, with no less comprehension of the danger posed by terrorism to the very life of the republic, no less anger at the brazen plot to establish an Islamic State outpost in Mindanao, and no less determination to wage war until the danger was fully overcome.

You can see the clarity with which the peril was assessed from the fact that President Duterte immediately declared martial law in all Mindanao even in the middle of his visit in Russia.

You see the clarity in the speed with which the Armed Forces responded to the crisis. You see the clarity in the assessment by military strategists that the Maute siege was seeking to unite under one IS banner all rebel groups in Mindanao, and work towards creating a separate republic.

You see the clarity in the way martial law in Mindanao was extended until the end of the year to totally end the conflict.

You see the clarity in the way the nation ‘s armed forces methodically and progressively cut down the terrorist forces, and reduced them to a handful of fighters.

You see the clarity in the valor and heroism of Filipino soldiery, as they waded boldly into the arena of war, some even returning, even after being hospitalized for battle wounds.

You see the clarity in the way the AFP’s war strategy never wavered from the objective of defeating or killing all the terrorists.

You see the clarity in the way the AFP used effectively the assistance of allies in the war on terrorism.

Finally, we see the clarity in the way the fighting has been wound down to the point where not a single terrorist will be left standing.

Troops are now hunting for the Malaysian terrorist Mahmud Ahmad who was estimated to be still in the battle zone. One terrorism expert projects that if Mahmud survives he would likely take over the leadership of IS-linked fighters in Mindanao.

Opposition’s moral confusion
“Moments of moral clarity,” wrote Bennett, “are exceedingly rare in life, and they are exceedingly precious. They usually follow upon hours – years – of moral confusion.”

When crisis struck in Marawi, the response of Filipinos was not immediately unified. The opposition sought to confine the fighting only to Marawi City. Local politicians in Mindanao wanted their jurisdictions spared from martial law. Liberal Party politicians and lawyers went to the Supreme Court to challenge the martial law proclamation. Several justices wrote dissenting opinions from the majority opinion sustaining the proclamation.

The Liberal Party, from the first, could not find its way to supporting our troops in the battle for Marawi. The Left kept away from it all. The Catholic Church never made clear its precise view of the conflict, even when church members were caught in the crossfire.

Up to now, there are pockets of Philippine society who continue to differ with the way the AFP and the national leadership have conducted the war on terrorism.

Some voices. like Sen. Risa Hontiveros who has a genius for finding the wrong thing to say, have raised concern about the possible violation of the human rights of the terrorists, including Hapilon and Maute. As in the fight against the communists in 1972, politicians are making political capital from pleading the cause of the enemies of the state. They found space in the media for their press releases.

The toll of the conflict
As the Marawi crisis ended, the toll of the conflict was swiftly tabulated. In all, the official count was: about 847 terrorists (including foreign fighters) killed, along with 163 government troops and 47 civilians. Some 300,000 persons were displaced from their homes and wound up in evacuation centers.

Some 846 firearms were recovered, along with various bombs and improvised explosive devices.

The military remains concerned about possible stragglers among the population. One commander said: “We cannot really say that [the area]is 100 percent cleared because even when they declared the end of World War 2, there were still stragglers.”

But Duterte’s declaration of Marawi’s liberation was issued as a “go signal” for the

start of the city’s rehabilitation, for which P10 billion has been appropriated.

The military has raised an alert against retaliatory attacks from terrorist sympathizers.

The United States has vowed support for the military’s final push in Marawi and the government’s rehabilitation plan.

The rebuilding of Marawi will be a telltale sign of how much Mindanao, the Filipino Muslim community and the nation have learned from the agony of the last five months.

yenmakabenta@yahoo.com

This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

 
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