Moving forward after Marawi
By now it is obvious that our military authorities have not read “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu, the great Chinese general who said: “If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained, you will also suffer defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
The worst debacle that the Armed Forces of the Philippines has suffered in decades could not have happened in Marawi if the authorities knew the enemy or if our intelligence networks have done their job of monitoring the movement of the jihadists, particularly in their massing of weapons and armed men in the city.
It was this intelligence failure, “of not knowing the enemy,” that resulted in a few hundred bandits and terrorists, later identified as fanatics who have sworn allegiance to Daesh or the Islamic State (IS), holding hostage the whole country, rampaging through Marawi and leaving in its wake some 90 soldiers and scores of civilians killed, with hundreds more injured, and the displacement of thousands of families not to mention the massive destruction of the once idyllic and peaceful lakeside city.
Indeed, it was unthinkable for the AFP and the Philippine National Police, with P2.5 billion in intelligence funds, to have failed to detect the entry of the jihadists in a small city like Marawi.
In other words, the Marawi tragedy could have been prevented. There is no doubt about it.
Hence, as soon as the guns are silenced permanently, the Duterte administration must embark on a two-pronged campaign to learn from the lessons of Marawi and to right a wrong so as not to repeat this kind of “preventable” disaster in the future.
But first, our authorities must admit their failure. Only then can we move forward and give justice to those who died and suffered in the city.
The immediate need is, of course, to start a massive rehabilitation and reconstruction effort to restore Marawi to its former self as the bastion of Islamic culture in the country. That the government has earmarked P20 billion as initial funding is a step in the right direction.
But parallel to this, a nonpartisan and independent commission should be formed to look into the circumstances and series of events or developments that culminated in the well planned and highly focused attack on Marawi on May 23 that has upended all that the AFP as protector of the Filipino people has stood for.
The proposed commission is not without precedent. There was the Agrava Commission that looked into the assassination of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. in 1983. There was the Davide Commission and later the Feliciano Commission that probed the Oakwood mutiny in 2003, and the Melo Commission that examined political killings in 2006.
Unlike similar commissions in the past, the proposed fact-finding body would be just that: a fact-finding body. It is not aimed at building a case for criminal negligence against anybody or blaming any units of the military and police for what happened; it will deal only with the flaws and inadequacies in our intelligence agencies in their gathering and monitoring operations.
The objective is to plug loopholes in operations and institute needed reforms, such as more coordination, joint undertakings and intense training to fight new challenges to intelligence services, notably the emergence of IS in the country.
It is proposed that among those to be summoned are the top officials of the military, police, Intelligence Service of the AFP, National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, National Counter-Terrorism Action Group, and the different intelligence branches of the major commands, such as the Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard. The officials in terror-plagued areas in Mindanao and experts in counterintelligence, both foreign and local, should also be summoned.
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Alito L. Malinao is a veteran journalist (former news editor, Manila Standard) who now teaches journalism at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila. He is the author of the book “Journalism for Filipinos.”
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