MY Filipino Muslim friend from Marawi City is distraught. She has just received news through Facebook that her family’s home was bombed. Mercifully, her relatives are safe. They evacuated with thousands of other families when the fighting broke out, now almost three weeks ago. They brought with them only what they could carry. With their home destroyed, these few possessions are all that they have left. “I sent money. It’s all I can do. Just keep sending money,” my friend said.
My friend has lived in Europe illegally for several years. She cleans two to three houses a day for which she is paid cash in hand. She supports herself and her family in the Philippines on this money. She suffers from pains in her stomach that she fears is an ulcer. She does not see a doctor because she has no health insurance. When the pain becomes too much to bear, she turns to the Salvation Army, from whom she receives some treatment and medication. She has been a lifeline to her family who depend on her now more desperately than ever.
The fighting between government forces and Islamic militants has devastated Marawi. Photographs show the war zone that the city has become—wrecked buildings, rubble-strewn streets, and billowing plumes of dust and smoke. The number of dead has reportedly climbed to over 200. Thirteen marines died in last Friday’s 14-hour pitched battle against the Maute militants. Such is the scale of devastation and death that people have bitterly compared Marawi City to the conflict-torn Syrian city of Aleppo.
Over the weekend the government announced that it would earmark P10 billion for the rehabilitation of Marawi. “We can assure you that the President is deeply concerned…and is very hands-on to ensure that normalcy will be restored at the soonest possible time,” said presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella sounding somewhat unconvinced by his own words. Little wonder, given that members of Team Duterte appear to be in disarray and confusion and seem to be doing everything they can to contradict one another.
Soon after President Duterte deemed it necessary to declare martial law in Mindanao and possibly beyond, his Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana publicly disagreed saying that the situation could be contained and there was no need for martial law. Duterte claimed terrorists beheaded a police chief, but was proven wrong by the Washington Post, which reported said police chief alive and well. With just a photo to go on, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre falsely accused a group of opposition lawmakers, including Senators Antonio Trillanes and Bam Aquino, of recently meeting in Marawi and plotting the Maute attack to destabilize the presidency. The picture, which showed the group sitting together in a restaurant, was in fact taken years ago and far away from Marawi. The apology Aguirre managed to cough out could not cover up his grossly imbecilic mistake.
Believing fake news, fueling fear, spreading false information, and being caught out doing so, is shameful and stupid beyond belief, except that one can’t really put anything past Team Duterte which has been shambolic in the present crisis, just like the President himself.
Duterte has yet to see the situation in Marawi in person. He has yet to speak to the troops on the ground and to the hundreds of thousands of displaced people. In fact, he seems to be poorly informed in general. He has only just learned that the military is receiving technical assistance from the US, whom over the last few months he has arrogantly shunned and positively relished insulting. He said he never approached America for help but nonetheless admitted that he was “thankful”. To their credit, the Armed Forces of the Philippines seem to know what they’re doing even if their leader doesn’t.
Promising more destruction and death seems to be Duterte’s particular forte. Lest we forget, his deadly anti-drug campaign, that has resulted in almost 8,000 killings, and on which he has poured most of his attention and energies over the past year, continues unabated. True to form, he has not been able to find it in himself to give comfort to the Maranaos. Rather than giving them assurance, Duterte, incredibly, shockingly, has chosen to indulge in victim blaming.
In a speech last week, he held the Maranaos responsible for the war. He accused them of letting foreign troublemakers into the city, or, as he put it, a different “class of people (ibang klaseng tao),” some of whom are “not Filipino,” and allowing them to spread a “corrupt ideology.”
Moreover, he added, “Were it not for the fact that we are bound by rules, I could flatten Marawi in two days. In 24 hours it would be done. Knock it all down,” he said, “drop all the bombs.” Showing a lack of compassion is one thing. But Duterte speaks like a warmongering, deranged despot.
My friend was a Duterte supporter. However, because of her illegal status, she was unable to vote. Perhaps she finds a little solace in that.