Pyrrhic victory in Marawi
The protracted siege of Marawi City has officially ended but it was a pyrrhic victory for the government, and the victory could be short-lived.
The siege mounted by the Maute group and Abu Sayyaf that started on May 23 and the subsequent massive military response resulted in one of the bloodiest encounters between government troops and terrorists in the Philippines’ recent history.
Per the last tally released by the military, the dead included 919 terrorists, 165 soldiers and 47 civilians; an estimated 1,700 soldiers were wounded; and 1,780 hostages were rescued. Some 350,000 residents were evacuated from the city during the fighting.
As a result of the aerial bombing and exchange of artillery gunfire, the once peaceful and idyllic city has been reduced to rubble, the devastation not unlike that in Mosul and Raqqa. Houses, business establishments and banks were ransacked and looted. Bundles of bank notes were recovered by soldiers from former hideouts of the jihadists.
According to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, an estimated P10 billion is needed for the rehabilitation and rebuilding of Marawi. Architect and urban planner Felino Palafox Jr., said it would take 70 years to restore the city to its former condition.
The end of the fighting and the killing of Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute do not signal the end of Islamic radicalism in the Philippines. Perhaps it could even be the lighting rod that could spark bigger and bloodier atrocities in Mindanao, particularly if the two men are considered by their followers as martyrs to their Islamic ideology.
Definitely new leaders will emerge after the killing of Hapilon and Maute. Julkipli Wadi, a former dean and a professor at the University of the Philippines’ Institute of Islamic Studies, has said that in due time, the two will be replaced as leaders of their respective groups.
President Duterte himself has warned that the terrorists will not disappear. “They will regroup anywhere and everywhere,” he said ominously.
During the fighting, some of the terrorists may have managed to flee the battleground and disappeared into the hinterlands of Lanao del Sur, or rejoined their comrades in Sulu and Basilan.
So what is the government doing to prevent a possible repeat of the Marawi siege elsewhere?
After delivering his State of the Nation Address last July when the fighting was going on in Marawi without letup, Mr. Duterte admitted a failure of intelligence on the part of the authorities with the entry into the city of hundreds of jihadists as well as high-powered guns and ammunition.
Thus, the government must step up its intelligence-gathering operations if it is to stop this type of attack early on in the planning phase.
The remaining Islamic State affiliates in Mindanao will try to show that they are still a force to reckon with, and it is frightening to think about what they can do. In 2004,
for instance, Hapilon’s group bombed a passenger ferry in Manila Bay, killing 116 people. In 2014, Abu Sayyaf bandits attacked civilians celebrating the end of Ramadan in Talipao, Sulu, killing at least 21.
Lorenzana has admitted that because of the killing of Hapilon and Maute, their subalterns could intensify their terrorist activities. He called on the residents of Mindanao to remain vigilant.
The government should realign the billions of pesos allotted to the war on drugs to strengthen the intelligence-gathering capability of the police and military throughout Mindanao. It should establish an intelligence network that would involve local units in the barangays, municipalities and cities.
Thus, the President is correct in extending martial law in Mindanao until such time that the terrorist threat is neutralized or totally eradicated.
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Alito L. Malinao is a former news editor of the Manila Standard. He teaches journalism at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila and is the author of the book “Journalism for Filipinos.”
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