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Commentary

LGUs: frontline defense vs. Maute-IS

/ 05:12 AM September 19, 2017

A skirmish between the Maute-IS forces and government troops weeks ago spoke volumes about the war against the extremists. The report was run in the inside pages of newspapers but its significance was not lost on the discerning public engrossed in the action-packed “Probinsyano”-like telenovela ongoing in Marawi.

While fighting was intense in the city, a rebel group attacked Marantao, an adjacent town. The local government unit, with its limited resources and police forces, fought valiantly, held its ground, and managed to repel the attackers. After the dust of the battle had settled, the casualty count was two on the rebel side (only one was reported because the other body was carried away by the rebels when they retreated) and zero on the government side. The attack was made to divert attention from the Marawi front where the rebels were taking a beating from the daily land and air strikes.

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Another fire fight of similar import occurred recently on the picturesque Lake Lanao, where special patrolling riverine units and maritime policemen quelled a rebel reinforcement force on its way to Marawi, killing 10.  The military’s victory was attributed to the intelligence shared by LGUs and residents.

These two “success stories” showed that government planners should harness the resources and ability of LGUs and their residents. Given ample support by the national government, LGUs could do much even without brigades of soldiers and the aerial bombardment conducted in Marawi.

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LGUs could be the frontline sentinels against marauding jihadists. Why? Because their lives and those of their loved ones are at stake. They have the advantage of familiarity with the terrain and could pinpoint strategic areas for combat maneuvers. They could map out a proactive strategy with help from the government’s defense and security experts to preempt rebel attacks. (The siege of Marawi caught everyone figuratively with their pants down, but residents are swearing that they will put their lives on the line if something like it happens again.)

I posit this theory in the face of a controversial memorandum from the National Police Commission which defanged LGUs and put their peace-keeping mandate in jeopardy. The memo withdrew from local executives in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao the power of supervision over the police forces in their jurisdictions, and tacitly accused them of involvement in drug trafficking. It was met with uproar and protest from the LGUs, which assailed it as ill-advised, uncalled for, and a sweeping indictment of local Moro officials.

In a conference called two months ago by Maranaw officials in the Cabinet, it was agreed that President Duterte would be requested to strengthen the Civilian Armed Forces Geographic Units (Cafgu) in Moro areas to help fight terrorism. But until now no word has been heard from Malacañang on this sensible suggestion which the President should ponder. The authorities’ lukewarm response to the request is understandable given the ghost of the past when Moro warlords like the Ampatuans transformed the Cafgu into their private army to perpetuate their political power. And bigots in Malacañang and other government offices continue to doubt the patriotism of Moros.

But as we have long pleaded, we cannot forever be slaves to this mindset. We have to move on and learn to trust each other, else our society will continue to languish in the quagmire of suspicion, mistrust, and decadence.

Lesson learned: Aerial bombardment and superiority in numbers, resources and war materiel do not always translate to easy victory. In our peculiar setting, harnessing the LGUs will be as effective in the war against terror.

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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, Islamic State, macabangkit b. lanto, Marawi siege
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