THE ongoing quest by the military and the police to clear Marawi City of the Maute-Islamic State (IS) group, which tried to wrest control of the city from the government, has brought into focus how the Moros, especially those who have been radicalized, have devised means—including one that is extreme—to pursue their violent Islamic ideology.
While the Islamic caliphate of Mindanao, in particular, and initially of Lanao del Sur, which is being pushed and espoused by the group under Southeast Asia’s IS-recognized leader Isnilon Hapilon, may have already lost its cause, it has, however, also forced the government to ponder on and address the ideology that is fueling what has already morphed into an “Islamic terrorism”.
A lost cause because, other than the being waged with physical extermination of the leaders and followers of the Maute-IS group by the Armed Forces through its ongoing massive operation, the group has also permanently lost what is supposed to be its mass base of support—the people of Marawi—whom it may unlikely win over.
As the battle for the city unfolds and crackles to its end, the episode has also unleashed and unearthed the fury of the terrorists through their killings of Moros and Christians alike, their taking of hostages and their attempt to further wedge the long-held notion of division between the Moros and Christians by attacking and burning a Roman Catholic cathedral in the heart of Marawi.
Revealing harrowing tales by those who have been rescued or have managed to escape from the captivity of the group, the military, through Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera, spokesman of the Joint Task Force Marawi, had disclosed that women hostages have been turned into sex slaves, or were forced to marry their captors.The hostages, including the women, were also forced to take up arms and loot houses and business establishments of cash and jewelry, with the haul estimated to have already exceeded more than P500 million as of this week.
“These are evil personalities,” Herrera said of the Maute-IS leaders and their band, who have indoctrinated their captives by sheer force for their conversion into their own brand and beliefs of Islam.
The siege of the city that left it in ruins, which coincided with the holy month of Ramadan, and the killings done by the Maute-IS group, have drawn the ire of Moro officials and civilians in Mindanao, who spoke of despicable language against the terrorists.
Officials even feared that after the battle, Marawi may go into a clan war, with the kin of the civilians killed going after the Maute members and their relatives.
Over the past decades, Mindanao has seen the emergence and growth of different Moro groups with different aspirations for the region, although their end zeal is for Islam. All were also carried out with the aid of guns.
These groups are the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which originally espoused for an independent Mindanao, but settled for an autonomy; the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which pushed for a Bangsamoro republic, but is working for a semi-independent state; the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), which are pushing for a purely Islamic state; and the Maute Group, whose call is for the establishment of a caliphate.
While the government has managed to politically contain the MNLF and the MILF, and even the BIFF with force, it is still working to fully cope with the ASG and learning the ropes with the Maute, as both the last two groups have the propensity to wage and carry out their causes by all means, especially by way of terrorism.
The terrorism was brought by the radicalized indoctrination to Islam by the leaders and members of the two groups, giving way to militancy and extremism.
Rooting out the radical dogma
While the military has had programs in addressing the extreme Islamic ideology—or the way it is carried out—as admitted by military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, the trend in Mindanao, particularly the events unfolding in Marawi City, has forced the Armed Forces to give focus to this ideology.
“We have programs to counter various violent ideologies. We have developed quite a good competency against those of the New People’s Army [NPA], but it is only now that we have focused on those related to radicalism and violent extremism,” he said.
Part of the program has been incorporated into the “Development Support and Security Plan Kapayapaan”, the six-year operational plan of the Duterte administration in dealing with all threat groups.
“Kapayapaan is not merely a strategy that calls for combat only, but allows a broad range of best practices such as consultations, support to development, dialogues and confidence-building measures. These all complement the government peace initiatives,” Padilla.
However, the military spokesman said countering the radical ideology, including the campaign against terrorism, do not rest solely upon the shoulders of soldiers, but must involve the whole country.
“The campaign against terrorism requires the cooperation of the government and people. I call on the people to be vigilant and have security consciousness and bayanihan spirit to defeat terrorist infiltration,” Padilla said.
President Duterte has in part blamed some officials and residents of Marawi on why the Maute-IS group has managed to stock up arms and smuggle fighters within their midst. It was as if they allowed it or took a “no one cares” stand.
But the Maute and the ASG are just a small parcel of the whole Moro community in Mindanao, according to Padilla.
“Like in any religion, there are small extremist elements who try to hijack causes and grievances existing in Muslim communities in the Philippines. These small groups are collectively put in one category as terrorists together with the NPA,” he said.
Padilla added the military, in tandem with the government, is also working to address the factors that propel the violent ideology in Mindanao, foremost of which is the poor social condition in the region, as admitted not only by the government but even by international aid agencies.
“Given that these social problems have existed for generations in Mindanao, we cannot solve this overnight and it has been a continuous step-by-step process to solve it. The military remains committed to the government in support of these initiatives,” he said.
“The best strategy has always been a whole of government approach with broad sectoral consultation among our Muslim brothers and sisters. The military will always be committed to such a strategy,” he added.