Tuesday, October 23, 2018
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Stop bombing Marawi

05:06 AM August 30, 2017

The United States bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki and brought Japan to its knees and ultimate surrender. For more than three months Marawi City has been incessantly bombed, but what we are seeing is the opposite — the jihadists unyielding and fighting ferociously. Of course, the analogy is “apples and oranges,” or fallacious. But it makes us wonder about the necessity of carpet-bombing.

I am a lawyer and by no means a military person. The 2-year ROTC course I grudgingly took in college would not qualify me as an authority on any military matter, much less war. But I have a bottomless supply of commonsense. I have no quarrel with the generals’ strategy of employing an aerial campaign to back an attack by ground troops; it is their call. But that does not make them, or the execution of their order, error-free.


Consider these facts: A few weeks after the start of the siege, an aerial bomb went wayward and hit a gymnasium in the municipality of Ditsaan-Ramain many kilometers away from Marawi; on June 1 a jet bomber missed the enemy and killed 10 soldiers instead; on July 12, two soldiers died in similar circumstances (whatever happened to the supposed inquiry into these deaths by friendly fire?).

The relentless bombing of Marawi is a moral issue. When the bombing was ordered, there were hundreds of civilians who refused to leave their homes and hostages still holed up in the city. The cries of protest from local leaders and ulama were drowned out by the staccato of artillery fire and bombs. The military has statistics on the fatalities from the government and rebel sides, but none on civilians caught in the crossfire and/or killed in the bombings. Were the lives and houses of civilians even factored in the decision? Was area bombing preferred over precision bombing? Why were there always fires in the areas bombed?


Marawi residents have called it a form of state terrorism and vandalism from the air. It is a no-brainer that the damage caused by the bombardment should be commensurate to its goal. The bakwit claim that this is not so in their experience. Meanwhile, the generals excuse themselves, saying that in war everything is fair game and dead civilians are collateral victims.

I have not come across any law or treaty on air warfare or specific provisions of international law dealing with the issue. But we can invoke general provisions of the International Humanitarian Law (jus in bello) or the International Human Rights Law to protect civilians who are not participants in hostilities. There are general provisions of the 1907 The Hague Convention and Protocol I additional to the Geneva Conventions that impliedly prevents excessiveness and flagrant abuse in the conduct of air strikes.

In an article titled “Aerial bombing against Isis is counterproductive” (Nov. 29, 2015, published by openDemocracy.net), the author, Daniele Archibugi, maintains that “bombing from the air is not only ineffective; it is counterproductive, especially against a nonterritorial entity such as Isis,” and that “air strikes do not manage to eliminate actual or potential terrorists or suicide bombers.” Some war historians say that even the so-called “precision bombing” resorted to by the Allied forces was found to be “ineffective because the technology did not allow for sufficient accuracy… They resorted to the so-called area bombardment [but it] brought about civilian casualties.”

Perhaps our treaty ally, the United States, should support us with its most modern technology in air warfare, like laser-guided bombs and sensor or thermal imagers employed in the Gulf War, and train our military pilots.

This call may be too late in the day as the war is winding down. But it might serve as a lesson for a future siege. The threat of the IS menace is here to stay.

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Macabangkit B. Lanto (amb_mac_lanto@yahoo.com), UP Law 1967, was a Fulbright Fellow in New York University for his postgraduate studies. He has served the government as congressman, ambassador, and undersecretary, among other positions.


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TAGS: Inquirer Commentary, macabangkit b. lanto, Marawi siege, Mindanao martial law
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