The Marawi crisis: insights from ground zero | Inquirer Opinion

The Marawi crisis: insights from ground zero

/ 05:04 AM November 17, 2018

Following the terrorist attack in Marawi in 2017, the Philippine Army was compelled to conduct initiatives to alleviate the condition of the communities affected by such a human-induced disaster. The security sector consulted the people and crafted plans of action after a series of dialogues with sultans, imams, traditional and religious leaders, the youth, academe, business and professional sectors, local community executives  and civil society organizations (CSOs), and the affected communities, to lay down the framework for disaster management.

The Joint Task Force (JTF) Marawi established partnerships with the local communities and communicated the need for them to take a proactive part in stakeholder and community engagements that would benefit them. We were there to bring in the needed resources that would address their needs. They were the masters of the project, while we catered to them in a servant role.


A civil-military operations team was mobilized to actively engage all the affected communities, groups and key individuals in implementing the government’s humanitarian assistance. The civil-military operations coordinating center (CMOCC) was activated to serve as JTF Marawi’s platform for various civilian stakeholders, including CSOs, media, private individuals, and government organizations, that would engage with the Armed Forces of the Philippines for dialogue, clarifications, inquiries and coordinating emergency activities during the crisis.

The CMOCC’s real value was in the fact that the military welcomed civilian engagements even when fighting between JTF Marawi and the enemy was intense. The CMOCC provided the much-needed space for airing civilian concerns, and also greatly contributed to rescue coordination efforts for civilians trapped by firefight, the retrieval of the dead and wounded, and emergency relief operations.


The CMOCC’s tasks involved rescue, relief and retrieval. The CMOCC, in collaboration with the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office  of Lanao del Sur, facilitated 29 rescue operations arising from various distressed calls made by trapped civilians. Out of the total 1,758 individuals, 935 were rescued through CMOCC facilitation.

The recovery of dead bodies and missing persons and other retrieval operations were tasked to the Philippine Army and other adjacent military units, together with the Bureau of Fire Protection  Lanao Del Sur. The recovery of 232 dead bodies was facilitated in coordination with the Philippine National Police Scene of the Crime Operatives  Lanao del Sur.

Spearheaded by the Philippine Army, the Provincial Crisis Management Committee (PCMC) was established as a policy and decision-making body for the local government units (LGUs) in Lanao del Sur to manage the Marawi crisis at the provincial level. With the implementation of martial law, the Philippine Army initiated and facilitated the formation of the PCMC in coordination with Lanao del Sur’s leaders—a gesture to show the affected communities that their local government was functioning and was respected by the military.

The PCMC’s primary function was to determine the appropriate level of crisis response needed, based on its continuous and thorough assessment of the prevailing crisis. PCMC discharged its functions in close coordination with the Philippine Army, and complemented the humanitarian efforts of the military. The PCMC provided support to ensure the successful implementation of our humanitarian missions. Strategic decisions undertaken by the military, especially in cleared areas, were done in consultation with the PCMC.

The negative reactions of the affected communities against military operations declined because of the harmonious relationship between the provincial government and our AFP units. Our engagements with the PCMC showed our sincerity. The PCMC appreciated our efforts and explained to the people the reasons behind our focused military operations in the main battle area.

Our messaging included the PCMC and centered on the provision of protection, help and support for the LGUs. The consultations and partnerships with the city and municipalities throughout the entire province showed that the civilian authorities, despite the declaration of martial law, were still in control, and were supported by the AFP.

The Joint Task Groups (JTG) Ranao and Tabang were activated to address specific issues concerning the affected communities during the crisis. JTG Ranao secured the outskirts or cleared areas, prevented the enemy from escaping and getting reinforcements, and at the same time established and maintained the trust and support of the local populace.


The establishment of JTG Tabang strengthened community support. Composed of the Philippine Army’s newly activated Civil-Military Operations Regiment, JTG Tabang was tasked to provide assistance to the LGUs and other agencies in rebuilding peace in Marawi City, and uplifting the welfare of the affected communities. The unit also provided assistance in relief and humanitarian operations directed mainly at displaced families.

The AFP’s disaster management strategy during the Marawi crisis served as the barometer for translating our tactical victories in the main battle area into a moral victory. This legitimized the conduct of our operations and generated overwhelming support and admiration from the nation. One of the challenges that we encountered during the crisis was the negative perception by the affected communities of any uniformed personnel—reflecting a long-standing grudge, from the martial law of the ’70s, held by the Maranao against men and women in uniform.

The only reason our soldiers are willing to sacrifice their lives is because we live by our oath: protecting the people and securing the land. It goes without saying that our security forces will not allow our own people, or their families or communities, and especially our brothers and sisters in Mindanao, to lose their rights, liberties and their lands.

Lt. Col. Jo-ar A. Herrera (Asia21 Class of 2007) is the former assistant chief of staff for Civil-Military Operations, G7, 1st Infantry (Tabak) Division, Philippine Army, and spokesperson of Joint Task Force Marawi. He was one of the speakers during the Asia21 Young Leaders Summit hosted by Asia Society Philippines from Nov. 14-16.


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TAGS: Army, column, CSOs, Marawi, opinion
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