Tuesday, July 17, 2018
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Impasse in Marawi

Madinnah, Saudi Arabia—The fighting in Marawi is nearing its fourth week, and the prospect is dim that it would end soon. Meanwhile, the Daesh-inspired Maute-Abu Sayyaf forces have achieved their mission of gaining international recognition and the imprimatur of self-proclaimed Islamic State caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Here in the holy city of Madinnah, devotees on umrah pilgrimage are distracted from their pious mood by CNN and other international media reporting intermittently on developments in Marawi. The Saudi Gazette has regular reports on the progress of the Philippine government’s campaign to liberate Marawi from the rebels’ clutches.

The number of rebels has been fairly dissipated. They cannot sustain the diurnal bombings and rocket shelling. They have exploited to the hilt their familiarity with the terrain, the city’s crisscrossing roads, and the strategic location of high-rise buildings where their snipers with Barrett rifles and machine guns are safely ensconced and make government troops seem like sitting ducks.


The Maranaw rebel combatants are allegedly outnumbered by the Tausug and Yakan brought to Marawi by emir Isnilon Hapilon. This was validated by evacuees who said that when they spoke with the rebels manning the checkpoints in the Maranaw patois, the latter were unable to respond. In fact, part of the reason for the present impasse is that the non-Maranaw rebels, weary of the protracted standoff, are ready to leave Marawi but do not know their way out. Boxed in, they choose to fight and die a saheed (martyr) with expected rewards in the hereafter.

There are reports of a near-firefight among the Maranaw and Tausug rebels when the former took off their black uniforms intending to surrender or mix with the rescued natives but were stopped by the latter who saw treachery in their action.

The discovery of stacks of crisp bills and checks in a house in Marawi should be subjected to a thorough inquiry by a specialized agency like the National Bureau of Investigation. There is more to it than meets the eye. Marawi residents have been hearing stories of how Daesh International is bankrolling the local Daesh, even using regular banks in the transfer of funds. In fact, the rebels are said to have been recruiting members using money and a regular salary as lure. It would be naive to conclude that the cache of money was legitimately acquired despite the argument that the Maranaw are wont to keep their cash at home rather than in a bank because of the Koran’s proscription against usury.

Was the cash kept in a house to evade the prodding eyes of the Bangko Sentral’s Anti-Money Laundering Council? With the rebels’ official recognition as part of the worldwide network of Daesh International, their problem would be how funds from Al-Baghdadi’s oil treasury are transferred to them clandestinely. Will they use returning overseas Filipino workers as pigeons? Most probably. I suggest that values-formation lectures on patriotism and the scourge of Daesh (with the Marawi tragedy as classic example) be made part of the orientation seminar conducted for OFWs heading to the Middle East.

The national leadership has accused local leaders of failing to stop the rebels and of playing footsies with them to save their own necks. But truth be told, local government units were totally caught flat-footed. And if some heard advance “rumors” about the siege, they underestimated the rebels’ strength and firepower. Now, with martial law in effect, they are helpless with their private armies in kaput.

Historically, the Maranaw are patriots. The epic battle at Padang Karbala in Bayang, Lanao del Sur, on May 2, 1902, is a testament to their patriotism. They fought foreign invaders and have their own share of heroes like Amai Pakpak who put their life on the line in defense of the homeland. Instead of blaming the local leaders, the government should prepare a long-range plan to arrest a creeping radical ideology and the burgeoning numbers of
violence-prone Moro extremists.

Macabangkit B. Lanto (amb_mac_lanto@yahoo.com), UP Law 1967, was a Fulbright Fellow to New York University for postgraduate studies. He has served the government in various capacities.

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