Will the military dance Digong’s fandango?
Marawi was always a magnet of beguilement for a variety of reasons. First, there is its distinctive geography. One goes up to Tagaytay and overlooks Taal Lake; but in Marawi, one climbs the 2,387 feet elevation and still wades through the shores of Lake Lanao, the second largest lake in the Philippines and one of the 15 ancient lakes in the world. Geologists averred that a combined tectonic-volcanic damming from the collapse of a large volcano formed the lake.
And then there are the fascinating M’ranao. Years of interaction with the People of the Lake has taught me to respect the orthographic nuance of their language and have since then insisted on spelling it as it is pronounced — M’ranao (some prefer the also-correct Meranau).
Our embarrassing ignorance of the Moro, which includes the M’ranao, has habituated us to the popular thought that they are nothing but objects of military operations. That was my fundamental objection to martial law in a Mindanao that already reeled from Islamophobia.
That foreboding was there when I joined a group of academics given a military pass to enter Marawi City on the last day of the battle. Leading us was the president of Ateneo de Cagayan, Fr. Bobby Yap, SJ, whose institution was very much in the thick of involvement with internally displaced persons (IDPs) of this war.
Although the main battle zone was off limits to us, we saw a ghastly sight that I had never ever seen in this beautiful
summer capital — a ghost town bereft of human activity. The authorities had confined us to the provincial capitol compound, away from the charred zone that ironically is known by its regal name in M’ranao—Datu sa Dansalan.
I come from the martial law of the Marcos era. That is my historical anchor because I lived through all the years of that dark period of history. I had seen its abuses first hand. I personally witnessed the Marcos family flaunt their powers before the public. I knew what a silenced press was. I had known what fate befell its dissenters.
The young military officer who oriented us on this visit disoriented me — he spoke of a martial law that was far from the hawkish assertions of his commander in chief. He described a martial law administration rarely written by media, not even by the cussing troll armies associated with President Duterte.
“Martial law just tightened security measures but has never involved the military in civil governance,” he told us. If what we had seen were the airstrikes and the images of the bombed-out city, what this officer told us confounded me.
Continuous security patrols were done around Marawi’s perimeters, and we can understand that. Part of that was to achieve property protection and to prevent fires. We were told that soldier looters have been sanctioned.
Aside from recovering improvised explosive devices, soldiers were also tasked to retrieve and safekeep abandoned motor vehicles, even verifying its registration papers with the Land Transportation Office.
Much was done to protect the IDPs scattered in various relocation sites we had visited. There was livelihood support, one of which was a successful agricultural program in barangay Bito Buadi Itowa by Xavier University Ateneo de Cagayan. The agricultural production farm XU had trained the IDPs to put food on the table of their modest homes donated by the Tarlac Heritage Foundation.
The military also ensured psychosocial support to heal the traumatized. Conferences with ulamas were conducted, the dead buried under Islamic rites. Trainings for barangay leaders provided them with a checklist to prevent disgruntlement
of the populace once normalcy would have been restored.
That orientation gave me two impressions. The Philippine military had evolved into a professional army, shedding off its repressive image under Marcos. The more serious impression was that of a military that, by performing under an emphasis of community relations, was subtly showing its indifference to dance with Mr. Duterte’s fandango of a brutal martial law and a looming revolutionary government.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.