NOT at all. But we have to work very hard to avoid doing so.
The worst of the Marawi standoff appears to be in sight, but there is reason to believe the Islamic State’s grip on Southeast Asia, through its Eastern Province in the Philippines, has just begun. Although we can now heave a sigh of relief that no other place has been attacked, and damage to life and property has not been much bigger, we take so much unnecessary risk if and when we proclaim that we are now free from any terror strike because the militants have been contained.
Have they, in fact, been contained? That requires a long and elaborate answer.
Neither Paris nor London nor Manchester nor Brussels nor Stockholm nor even New York before Sept. 11, 2001 had expected to be attacked. And they were attacked. In our case, the IS has vowed to hit our country and our region, and through the Maute terror group, they did. It doesn’t stand to reason that in a nation dominated by millions of Christian “infidels,” the Islamic city of Marawi with its 200,000 Muslims should satisfy their ideological hate and lust for violence.
Therefore, we should prepare. The only way to avoid surprises is to be prepared. The New York Times was not simply nitpicking or trying to get President Rodrigo Duterte’s goat when it pointed out editorially that he could probably have avoided the bloody month-long siege had he taken the IS-linked Mautes seriously when they threatened to burn Marawi last year, unless the government agreed to “a ceasefire,” instead of brushing them offhand, and telling them to “go ahead, do it.” DU30 has since tried to improve on that lapse by rejecting all suggestions of negotiations with the last Maute holdouts, and ordering his troops to finish them off. But not everyone favors that approach, and there’s no guarantee it would succeed.
Where are the IS/Maute leaders?
As of this writing, none of the rumors have been confirmed that the top Maute leaders had been killed. And while the body count shows how many militants have been killed, nobody knows how many Mautes and foreign jihadists were involved in the siege. Some sources close to the ground suggest that a sizeable number may have slipped out of Marawi during the fighting to create a new base of operations in Cotabato, Lanao del Norte or somewhere else. This theory needs to be checked and rechecked before the authorities write it off.
There has been no clear explanation until now of how the Mautes were able to withstand aerial and land military bombardment for four weeks without running out of ammunition and provisions, unless the equipment and supplies had been prepositioned before the siege began. DU30 and his military spokesman seem to believe the Mautes were armed by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front, who were not heard from in the last four weeks. No one openly contradicts this theory, but some military analysts say it was the New People’s Army’s Moro Action Committee, composed of Moro members from Central Mindanao, which had been funding and arming the Moro extremists long before the Marawi incident.
According to them, if the MILF had wanted to support the Mautes, they could have easily sent reinforcements from Lanao del Norte, where the MILF has at least 15,000 fighters under Chairman Haji Murad. Commander Bravo (Abdullah Goldiano Makapaar bin Sabar) alone commands one MILF brigade with at least 1,000 men. But by incriminating the MILF and the MNLF in the Marawi clashes, without any credible evidence, and saying nothing about the NPA’s allegedly verifiable involvement, DU30 seems determined to justify his apparent decision to pursue peace talks with the CPP/NPA/NDF and bring about the integration of the NPA into the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Letting the NPA keep their ranks
DU30 revealed this plan on his last visit to the military camps in Agusan and Butuan last week. There he said the NPA fighters who would like to join the AFP would be welcome and would be allowed to keep their original ranks. None of the officers and men had the heart to remind him that in the NPA, they do not have any ranks. This happened before the NPA raided a police station in Maasin, Iloilo, on Sunday, and hauled 11 M-16 rifles, four pistols, ammunition and VHF radio equipment. The raid prompted Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a former chief of police, and chairman of the Senate committee on public order, to caution DU30 to make sure that the NPA was still under the control of the NDF before he started any negotiations with them.
At the same time, many have expressed concern that by implicating the MILF and the MNLF, even without credible evidence, in the IS-linked Maute violence, the government could manufacture new reasons to delay the peace process in Mindanao. This process has been fraught with controversy, but following the Marawi incident, there seems to have emerged a greater need for a Moro law enforcement authority that could deal with all conflicting parties. The peace process and its enabling legislations should then proceed without further delay.
Side by side with all legitimate government efforts to expunge the IS presence, the Muslim-Christian communities should do all they can through dialogue and interaction to enlarge the constituency that rejects the IS presence. DU30 has thumbed down proposals to negotiate with the Mautes, but Mindanao’s religious leaders, led by Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, Archbishop of Cotabato, have called for urgent inter-religious dialogue among Christians, Muslims and Lumad in the face of the IS threat. Such a dialogue has become “imperative and indispensable,” said Quevedo, a leading peace advocate in Mindanao and one of the eminent members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines and the conference of Asian bishops.
“It is the task of religious leaders to address the root causes of terrorism, especially the false beliefs of their respective constituents about others, the deep-seated biases and prejudices that sometimes explode into the open when social disputes, crimes and violence occur, “ he said. Indeed, both Christians and Muslims of Mindanao must be the first to recognize that the IS is not propagating true Islam but a perverted idea of Islam, which seeks to turn this religion of peace into an instrument of hate and violence. As the Marawi incident has shown, peace-loving Muslims, who constitute the majority of Muslim Filipinos, are not safe from its embrace.
Quevedo and Capalla team up
Together with Quevedo, Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla of Davao has been trying to revive the Bishops-Ulama Conference of the Philippines, which he had founded in the early 1990s with Dr. Mahid Mutilan, head of the Ulama League of the Philippines and Governor of Lanao del Sur, and Protestant Bishop Hilario Gomez Jr. of the National Council of Churches of the Philippines. The BUC was composed of 24 Catholic bishops, 26 ulama and ustadz, and 18 Protestant bishops, and actively promoted mutual understanding and cooperation among the different religious communities in the face of the long-running Moro insurgency.
The government was pleased to extend it full cooperation and support, from President Fidel V. Ramos on to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. But President B. S. Aquino 3rd, who became President in 2010 and received Pope Francis in Malacañang in January 2015 with a less than cordial statement, proved indifferent, if not hostile to it. Mutilan was killed in a road accident in 2007, and has not been replaced by any Muslim religious and political leader of equal significance. But Capalla and Gomez are still very much around, trying to put back the BUC into its original shape.
Quevedo’s and Capalla’s efforts enjoy significant public support, including from the members of the diplomatic community. In a recent interview with this writer on GNN Cable TV, Pakistani Ambassador Sakdar Hayat said the revival of the BUC’s efforts to bring about a better understanding of Islam and stronger cooperation between Muslims and Christians should be most helpful in meeting the threat of Islamic extremists. The ambassador also called on Muslim scholars and holy men from other countries to contribute to this effort.
Just as many who profess to be Catholic Christians do not really know what Catholic Christianity is all about, many who “fight in the name of Allah,” (all praise be to him!), do not really understand or practice true Islam. This lack of understanding allows them to kill in the name of their God, invoking his name in a “war cry” before they kill—“Allahu Akbar!” (God is greater!)—as if God required or would be pleased with their killing. The ill-formed Catholic on the other hand allows superstition to turn their piety into offensive pietism.
Should non-Muslims strike back?
Muslims who misunderstand their own faith and misuse it to inflict violence and death on others are dangerous enough. But even more dangerous perhaps are non-Muslims who wrongly believe that Muslims are committed to eliminate non-Muslims by violent means, and that non-Muslims must therefore strike the first blow at these Muslims in self-defense.
I have not heard anyone defend this strange proposition in public, but this seems to be the message some people are reading from Monday’s terror attack near Finsbury Mosque in north London. One was killed and eight were taken to hospital after a van drove into pedestrians coming from the mosque after Ramadan prayers, according to the press reports. The driver of the van was reportedly heard shouting, “I’m going to kill all Muslims!”
The trustee and general secretary of the mosque was quoted as saying the attack was clearly intended to kill Muslims returning home after prayers. He called it an attack on their faith and their faith community. The Labor Party denounced the attack as Islamophobia rearing its ugly head, and the British Prime Minister condemned it saying “evil and hatred will never succeed.” Would that the assailant was clearly out of his mind, completely crazy, deranged, and was not fully aware of what he was doing? But what happens if he was in fact in full possession of his faculties and really wanted to kill “all the Muslims”? Is it possible that the many incidents of Islamist terrorism have, in fact, prompted some people to start thinking of killing Muslims just because they were Muslims?
It happened a couple of days ago in London, where and when will it happen next? How fast will the virus spread?
Throughout our long insurgency in what is now supposed to be the Eastern Province of IS, we have succeeded in keeping our religious differences out of the smoldering Mindanao conflicts. With the latest developments around us, we cannot be sure anymore we would be able to keep our record intact. We need to work harder together as one people—as children of Abraham—to make sure we do not start killing one another in the name of the different ways we speak to and worship our God. Will PDU30 be pushing with us in the same direction, or will he be leading himself somewhere else?