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Why is IS eyeing Lanao del Sur?

The other week I caught on TV the press briefing of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, where he reported that the IS (Islamic State) leadership had resolved that Basilan and Sulu could not qualify as a caliphate and that it was now looking at Lanao del Sur, my home province, as target area.

The news sent chills down my spine. Scenes of past military operations flashed in my mind like a movie reel. To this day I am haunted by memories of the depredations and plunder of marauding soldiers, which, shorn of any appearance of guilt, they justify as “unavoidable collateral damage.” I thought a sinister plot was afoot to make Lanao del Sur a theater of war against terrorists.

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But I understood why. The islands of Sulu and Basilan are too small to provide cover and sanctuary to rebels, but Lanao del Sur has thickly forested mountain ranges bordering Maguindanao and unexplored even by the military. Moreover, the Maranaw are among the Muslim groups religious to a fault. This could make them easy prey to Islamic evangelists preaching the radical Wahabbi-Salafi Islam propagated by the IS de facto caliph Al-Baghdadi.

Consider these facts about Lanao del Sur and the Maranaw:

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The capital is, by regional law, officially called the Islamic City of Marawi, a title not bestowed on any other city in Morolandia. The distinction is based on the fact that Muslim Maranaw have been unwavering in resisting the winds of modernity and western values that have corrupted other Muslim groups. It is the seat of the Ansar-ul-Islam (Soldiers of Islam) and the Tableigh movement, which mandate the revival of the “purist” Islam.

Back when I was a member of Congress, then Speaker Jose de Venecia asked me where I learned to play good golf. I told him that where I grew up, tennis and golf were the main form of entertainment because we have no cinemas and bars to unwind in after a day’s work.

Visit the padian (market) any day and you will feel you are in a suok where Arab wares and apparel are displayed and sold. If you see a woman wrapped in a chador, she could be an Arab or a Maranaw because no one else wears it. Gambling and alcoholic drinks are taboo. At one time, commercial buildings in Marawi were set ablaze by radical Muslims on suspicion that cubicles intended for karaoke gatherings and computer games were being used for lovers’ trysts.

Minarets line the shores of Lake Lanao, and madaris (Islamic schools) abound in the province. There is also the “Toril” system under which young Muslims are herded into a secluded compound away from their families to learn Arabic and Islam. It is suspected by security authorities as breeding ground for extremism.

If you live outside Morolandia and happen to see a mosque, chances are it was built by Maranaw residents. Most of the Filipino Muslim scholars educated in Middle East universities are Maranaw. (Omar Khayyam Maute, leader of the Maute Group, was a student of Al Azhar University in Egypt during my tour of duty as Philippine ambassador).

Is it surprising that the IS leadership would be eyeing Lanao del Sur as its wilayat (province)? Almighty Allah forbid.

But the Maranaw in general, while fiercely religious Muslims, abhor extremism. They are fundamentalist believers of “pure” Islam as preached by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and believe in peaceful coexistence with non-Muslims.

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Macabangkit Lanto ([email protected]), UP Law 1967, was a Fulbright Fellow to New York University for his postgraduate studies. He is a former assemblyman/speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Autonomous Region 12, congressman, ambassador to Egypt/Sudan, and undersecretary of tourism and of justice.

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TAGS: Commentary, Delfin Lorenzana, IS, Islamic State, Lanao del Sur, opinion, terrorism, terrorist
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