To care for those who bore the battle
On their way home after the declaration of complete victory in Marawi City, a group of soldiers figured in a road accident; the bus they were riding in almost skidded off the road, and hit a post. No major injuries were reported—but the minor accident could have easily turned into a major nightmare.
Much has been said about the imperative to focus on the needs of the devastated city and its citizens, and much more will need to be said. The clear military victory in Marawi must be followed by a speedy return to normalcy in the city and its successful (if necessarily drawn-out) rehabilitation. The road to recovery and rehabilitation is fraught with risk; in a vitally important sense, the legacy of the Duterte
administration and the future of terrorism-free Mindanao depend on the fate of Marawi after the war.
But let us also consider the situation of the troops who fought in the conflict. At the peak of the siege, the Armed Forces deployed the equivalent of some 12 battalions, together with Special Action Force (SAF) and other units from the Philippine National Police (PNP). Government forces sustained 165 deaths over the five-month campaign. The death of 13 Marines in June was one of the worst losses of life in a single engagement in the history of the corps.
The Philippine Air Force was instrumental in determining the outcome of the conflict; its controversial airstrikes destroyed a great part of the city’s old district, but it also degraded the capability of the terrorist groups to fight a war of attrition.
Much of the fighting, however, was close-quarter combat; it involved the tedious, incredibly dangerous street-by-street, house-to-house reclaiming of territory. This could not have been easy.
In the same way that the government working with the private sector must work together to attend to the psycho-social needs of the city’s residents, the vast majority of whom had to evacuate and continue to live in less than ideal conditions in teeming evacuation centers, the government and the private sector must work together to attend to the wellbeing of the soldiers and policemen who fought in Marawi.
The homecoming on Wednesday of the PNP SAF contingent which fought in the Marawi campaign was a heartwarming experience, not just for the troopers but for the many people who lined the streets. The military is less inclined to mounting these displays, but it should consider staging similar back-to-barracks marches on public roads for the many Army, Marine, Air Force and Navy contingents that served in Marawi. These homecomings will provide a good lesson in civics, and create opportunities for citizens to show their gratitude to the soldiers and policemen who serve in their name.
But these will also serve as a source of consolation, even of strength, for men and women coming home from the trauma of war, who have lost their friends and colleagues and who may need some help in
adjusting to normal life.
The American defense secretary praised the armed services for subduing enemy forces without, he said, a single credible complaint of human rights violations; other parties suggest that might not exactly be accurate, but we have no hesitation in suggesting that the Armed Forces should lead the effort to establish whether there were in fact such violations, because we are confident that as a whole our servicemen conducted themselves with decency and distinction.
But the best assistance and the best tribute a grateful nation can pay its gallant soldiers and police officers is to shield them from politics: The battle of Marawi highlighted the professionalism of the armed services; it would be a terrible waste if the future that awaits them is only a greater role in the political life of the nation.
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