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Blame game in Marawi

“But Mommy, I thought it would not last longer than three days.”

That was the response of my daughter Paramanis-Api to the constant berating of my wife for leaving behind precious possessions like her jewelry box when they evacuated to Iligan on the night of May 23, when the siege of Marawi began. (May 23 is the birthday of another daughter, Princess Pala Gandamra, who had earlier made elaborate preparations for a celebration. She eventually had to take a rain check.)

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I recall this because those were the same words used by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana when asked about his thoughts upon learning of the attack on Marawi. As it happened, our house was ransacked and bombed; it is now in ruins.

Truth be told, the rumor mill in Marawi was fueled for months by the then impending attack; it went on overdrive weeks after the humiliating defeat of the Maute-Hapilon jihadists in the nearby town of Piagapo.  The residents talked about it, first in whispers in the coffee shops of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro, escalating into open discussion even in sermons during Salatul Juma’ah or Friday congregations.

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The jihadists even boasted about punishing Marawi in the VHF-radio exchanges of members of Saksi, a local club of amateur radio buffs. But nobody took them seriously. At one time my sister Rocaya frantically called me to ask about the jihadists’ open recruitment for a fee of young Maranaw. But I told her to stop fussing over it—a remark reflective of the zeitgeist then. Who would think that a ragtag band of dissidents from the rural town of Butig with less than 100 members could even think of attacking Marawi, the nerve center of the cultural, social, financial and political life of the Maranaw? The President and his defense secretary had not been wanting in alerting the people about the incipient inroads of Daesh extremist ideology among the moderate Muslim Maranaw and its design to create a wilayat out of Lanao del Sur.

Everyone thought that the publicized designation of Isnilon Hapilon as emir and his presence in Marawi was mere hot air to bolster the  morale of the jihadists and inspire their recruitment campaign. We thought: No way could they match the firepower and capability of our security forces. We thought: They will soon run out of ammunition and wave the white flag. Alas, we were wrong!

And who is to blame for the debacle?

The President put the blame on the Maranaw for allowing the jihadists to enter Marawi. That’s misplaced defense logic for government incompetence. The raison d’etre of the government is primarily to protect its citizens. The present impasse has proven beyond doubt the jihadists’ military capability to withstand government might. How can untrained civilians match such military power? And besides, as a captured juvenile rebel has confessed, the surreptitious massing of arsenal in Marawi started years ago.

The Maranaw were also wary of getting into a rido or clan war with the big Maute family that would last a lifetime. But had the residents known of the potential heavy toll on their life and property, they would have fought to the death any invader, Maute or no Maute. After all, most families in Marawi have a cache of firearms as treasured possessions. (The terrorists have lasted this long by looting houses of firearms and ammo.)

The ulama blame the Maranaw’s deviation from the teachings of Islam. That’s self-flagellation. I daresay that among the Muslim tribes, the Maranaw have shown more devotion to Islam.

Critics of the administration as well as armchair analysts accuse government security forces of failure of intelligence. Wrong. They have been warning residents of the terrorists’ design. But then what preventive measure did the military do?

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Residents were wrong and are now paying a very high price for their naivete. Lesson learned: Never underestimate your enemy, especially one “who looks into the barrel of your gun and sees paradise.”

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Macabangkit Lanto ([email protected]) is a resident of Marawi, a UP Law 1967 graduate, and a Fulbright Fellow to New York University for his postgraduate studies. He has served the government in various capacities.

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TAGS: Delfin Lorenzana, Inquirer Commentary, Jihadists, Macangkit B. Lanto, Marawi siege, Mindanao clan war, Mindanao martial law
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