MUSINGS FROM TEXAS: Philippines grapples with its own band of terrorism

HOUSTON, Texas (MindaNews / 03 June) — The Philippines is now taking its turn in staring terrorism right in the eye as violent acts from Islamic jihadists worldwide continue to force governments, other institutions and affected communities to come up with effective ways in dealing with its threats.

In the Philippines, the government and many other sectors there are being forcibly challenged to swiftly respond to the evolving conflict between the jihadist Maute Group and security forces.

As both forces entangled themselves in a week-old tug-of-war right in the heart of an Islamic city, the ferocity of the conflict has so far resulted to over 100 dead and displaced at least 100,000 residents.

Simple Police Action

Apparently, a police operation was the best tactical operation officials came up with in response to reports of the presence in Marawi City of the Abu Sayyaf”s Isnilon Hapilon which reportedly had, months earlier, joined forces with the Maute Group.  He was reported to be recuperating from wounds inflicted by a recent armed clash with government forces in Lanao del Sur.

The police action may have been influenced by strong considerations that Hapilon was enjoying the hospitality of the city – Maute group, a few Muslim clerics, some powerful individuals and key clan personalities, plus of course, the general Islamic atmosphere of the surrounding community, which is akin to what the underground left calls as “liberated area.”

It was not surprising for the militants to resist and fight back when police attempted to serve a warrant for his arrest.

What was new and surprising was the intensity of the rampage that ensued – freeing prisoners from the city jail; burning of Christian landmarks ( Dansalan College and St. Mary’s church) and abducting Catholic priest Fr. Teresito Suganob of the St. Mary’s church along with several others.

They also consolidated the community around them by segregating the resident Maranaos (mostly Muslims) from the Bisayans (mostly Christians working there).

Owing to their youth, many of these militants were so on fire with their jihad it wasn’t difficult for them to obey orders to kill the so-called infidels. Bodies of slain civilians are starting to be discovered as government security forces regain control over widening areas of the city.

Martial Law

Another surprise that jolted the country was when President Rodrigo Duterte, while on an official visit to Russia, placed Mindanao under Martial Law for 60 days. Many, most especially the militants, may have not considered this strong response to come into play.

Even both the AFP and police forces appeared to have been surprised, too, because they needed a day or two to show a clear direction of movement, largely because of the influx of fleeing civilians and the multiplicity of armed groups protecting their respective families and clans.

Similar to natural calamities hitting communities, local government officials from both the provincial, city and municipal levels, were having difficulties in showing a semblance of order because they were themselves, victims.

With Martial Law in place, government security forces expect more elbow room to effectively combat the Maute militants and their allies with finality.

One thing is certain, they have to quickly shift their tactics from conventional to the unconventional coupled with the effective harnessing of human intelligence, and technology.

The use of helicopter gunships once militants’ positions in buildings and structures are pinpointed may have hastened the regaining of the city’s control back to the government. It came with a cost though as 10 soldiers died as a result of friendly fire.

Propaganda War

An indication to that was a multi-level appeal coming from local and regional officials, and civil society groups, seeking a stop to the ongoing operations so as to spare the hostages and allow the militants to leave the city.

The most dramatic of which was the video of captive Catholic priest Fr. Suganob, echoing the same message, and even directly appealing to President Duterte.

Undoubtedly, several Maranao personalities and civil society organizations are right in the midst of negotiations pressing for the safe release of the hostages.

They may have used the conventional approach of offering a package, only to realize they are dealing with a group that elevates martyrdom as key to experiencing an eternity of blessings.

Will Duterte eventually cave in to the mounting pressure from a growing number of corners, and order his troops to stand down so the militants can escape?

Will these militants set free their hostages just like many of kidnap for ransom situations before. Or, they are of a different brand?  (Mindanawon Abroad is MindaNews’ effort to link up with Mindanawons overseas who would like to share their experiences in their adopted countries or their thoughts on what is happening in the country of their birth. Merpu Roa of Ozamiz City, one of the founding members of MindaNews, is presently based in Texas, USA and is president of the Philippine American Chamber Commerce of Texas, Rio Grande Valley)