Philippine military officials have learned an inconvenient truth in their zealous attempt to liberate Marawi City from the clutches of terrorism: deadlines are dangerous and can cost lives.
The first directive was to clear the capital of Lanao del Sur within two weeks from the time the battle erupted on May 23. One hundred and 10 days later, the battle rages on. Although the Armed Forces of the Philippines have retaken most of the 8,755 hectares of the city’s land area, the terrorists still have control over about 20 hectares.
As early as June 2, the armed forces have been feeling the pressure of a deadline after 10 government soldiers died from friendly fire the day before, when they were hit by a bomb from one of the planes attacking enemy positions in the city.
Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla admitted during a subsequent press briefing it would not be possible to end the siege in two weeks. “Based on the report that we’re getting, I don’t think we can meet that deadline today to completely – I’d like to qualify that – to completely free Marawi of every single armed element on every street.”
The most recent estimate of a time frame to end the bloody siege, given by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana last week, was within 21 to 30 days, supposedly based on the assessment by ground commanders.
It hardly qualifies for a deadline, considering the countless deadlines that have been relayed to the public since early June, including the presidential directive to regain the city between July 21 and 26. That would have been a great peg for the President’s State of Nation Address on July 24.
It is a long and arduous battle to liberation day, especially for the Maranaos whose lives and perspective of their homeland are now forever scarred by the misguided decision of the Mautes. They have chosen to side with the IS in attempting to establish a regional foothold from which to sow terrorism and stage terrorist activities in Southeast Asia.
The call for patience is in order as our soldiers continue to put their lives on the line to defend the ideals of a democratic republic and national sovereignty. Patience because the enemy is determined to make a last stand, patience because the armed forces must have enough strategic leeway in executing the end game to minimize the extent of military casualties and collateral damage while ensuring total victory, not a stalemate that would prove deadlier in the long run.
The lessons from Marawi may be bitter, the list quite long, but well worth learning.
Misreading intelligence reports on IS fighters shifting from a military rout in the Middle East and targeting Mindanao as a staging point and establishing a new front of terrorism in Southeast Asia was a costly mistake.
It is now crystal clear that military and civilian authorities must henceforth act resolutely in deciphering intelligence reports such as the buildup of militants in Marawi and the presence of high-value targets in the area.
The Rewards for Justice Program of the United States Department of State is offering up to $5 million for information leading directly to the apprehension or conviction of Isnilon Totoni Hapilon, who remains on the most wanted list of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Hapilon had banded with the Maute brothers and pledged allegiance to IS in securing Marawi for the purpose of international terrorism.
According to the FBI, Hapilon “was indicted in the District of Columbia for his alleged involvement in terrorist acts against United States nationals and other foreign nationals in and around the Republic of the Philippines.”
Indeed, the military was there on May 23 to capture Hapilon, who was supposedly seeking medical treatment from a battle wound. What the military missed was that IS fighters were already entrenched in the area. Consequently, government troops were surprised when they were met with superior firepower from the enemy line.
The siege of Marawi must never happen again anywhere else in Mindanao, or the Philippines for that matter. Every nook and cranny must be secured to ensure no terrorist is given an inch of our sovereign territory.
Vigilance and timely response to future threats are the hallmarks of valiant military service in protecting national sovereignty and the welfare of innocent civilians. The courage of our soldiers in the face of such threats can never be measured against deadlines that come and go.