Tuesday, September 18, 2018
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Flashback to Marawi in ‘72

A sense of déjà vu overwhelmed me as we drove through the streets of Marawi City on Day 3 of the siege. We were headed to City Hall, where Mayor Majul Gandamra and his relatives had dug in. It felt weird to see a situation almost the same as that almost 45 years ago, starting on Oct. 21, 1972, or a month after then President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law.

Rebels calling themselves “Iklas” had attacked Marawi and declared Moro independence. Banggolo, the busy commercial center, was empty, as now. Fully armed rebels occasionally marched on the streets, as now. Then Mayor Omar Dianalan, now deceased, held temporary office at Plaza Cabili surrounded by his relatives and a few policemen (the chief of police had earlier defected to the rebels), while frantically asking for reinforcements from a nearby military camp. Now, Mayor Gandamra was holding fort at City Hall surrounded by his two police escorts and his personal security group of relatives (the deputy chief of police was killed in action), and likewise seeking help from military authorities.


I wrote this as skirmishes continued, with government troops starting mopping-up operations against the rebels. The 1972 rebellion lasted for about three days. I remember it clearly:

It was a quiet, chilly morning. We were walking briskly from the mosque toward home after Soboh (dawn) prayers when we met a ragtag group of boys in full battle gear marching and shouting Allah Ho Akbar (God is Great)! They were led by one Commander Mino. They overwhelmed the local police forces and overran government installations and facilities. At the radio station dxSO, the boys, some of them my students at Mindanao State University, took turns declaring on air the start of the Moro revolution and ranting nonstop about Moro grievances. Marawi came close to falling into their hands but for Camp Keithley (renamed Amaipakpak), where outnumbered government forces fought valiantly.

There was a clear stalemate, a scene one sees in the movies. The rebels had regrouped and were targeting the camp; the government forces resisted fiercely. It was promising to be a drawn-out battle but the arrival of then Brig. Gen. Fidel V. Ramos on the third day broke the impasse. News of Ramos’ “reinforcement” spread fast and reached the rebels. It dampened their fighting spirit and deterred the reinforcement of other rebel groups, who believed that the general had come with battalions of soldiers to defend the camp. It was psywar in action.

I learned later from official documents that Ramos was then “on routine inspection of the local constabulary units based in Cebu City” and flew to Marawi with only his staff when he learned of the siege.

But his presence proved to be the tipping point. The camp defenders’ flagging morale was lifted when they saw their chief among them. True to his sobriquet, “Steady Eddie” was in his element commanding and rallying the soldiers. He “personally reorganized the defenses by strengthening fighting positions and realigning the troops in key areas, and rallied the men to carry on the fight…” The rebels eventually withdrew. For this singular feat, Ramos was awarded the “Distinguished Conduct Star” on July 1, 1986, “for conspicuous courage and gallantry in action.”

These came to mind as I pondered on how to end the violence in Marawi. Maybe the wisdom and courage of a General Ramos is needed? Maybe it requires one decisive and surgical military operation, avoiding hitting civilians, to drive away the outnumbered and underpowered terrorists? But I am only a trained litigator, not a soldier…

* * *

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

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TAGS: fidel v. ramos, Inquirer Commentary, Inquirer Opinion, Macabangkit B. Llanto, Majul Gandamra, Marawi siege, Mindanao martial law, Omar Dianalan
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