ALTHOUGH the Armed Forces of the Philippines, mandated to implement and enforce martial law in Mindanao, say the days of the Maute terrorists in Marawi City—who started their killing and burning rampage last May 23 on the sacred day of Ramadan—are numbered, we better prepare for more days of violence.
This was my answer to some of my international relations students as to whether our government forces can really end in week or two the outlawed Maute group’s destruction of Marawi, a university community with a cool elevation higher than Tagaytay City overlooking idyllic Lake Lanao—a tourist attraction.
While military generals want to put a deadline to war of any sort, the truth is any campaign timeline can be delayed by a number of factors, depending on the nature of the war. All one has to do is read the histories of the two world wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Middle East wars, and now the era of international terrorism.
Read on the current history of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the splinter Moro Independent Liberation Front (MILF), the Abu Sayyaf, the Bangsamoro Independence Freedom Fighters (BIFF), up to this Maute group led by the brothers Abdullah and Omar whose father, Cayamora, reportedly an MILF officer, has been arrested. Cayamora’s wife, Farhana, has also been arrested, after being caught trying to smuggle wounded Maute members–with lethal weapons–out of the country last week.
(The Communist Party the Philippines insurgency, the HUKS and the Pulahan of Commander Sakay, before the CPP, is another story.)
The recent International Conference on Regional Security in Singapore among the chiefs of the Asean 10 armed forces and foreign anti-terrorism experts came out with a resolute warning: the extremist Muslim terrorists are losing in Syria, Iraq and Iran—and therefore moving their operations center to the Southeast Asian region.
Therefore, expect foreign terrorists to be smuggled into any of the islands or Asean member countries from hereon.
It is important to know that these Muslim terrorists—there is a definite distinction between our peaceful but poor Filipino Muslim population and the violent Muslim extremists—receive smuggled arms and financial assistance from foreign sources (I will write about these sources and their goals in later columns).
The first three factors the international terrorists capitalize on when recruiting their young trainees—usually teenage boys of indigent Muslim families—are poverty, ignorance, and religion. The typical approach of the recruiters, some of whom were trainees of the original al-Qaida of the late Osama bin Laden in the Afghanistan war in 1989-991—is that they need the teenage Muslim boys to train to be imams, so they must study the Koran under the “elders or holy men”. In exchange, the boys’ families are given monthly cash payments of at least the equivalent of $500.
To the poor Muslim family, this is an attractive offer that they will not refuse. But the young boys are indoctrinated in killing Christians or non-Muslims, even to the point of being human bombers because when they die for Islam and Allah, they go to heaven, where they will be rewarded.
Culture is another factor that works for the terrorists. The parents of those young Muslims recruited for terrorism harbor their relatives because that is the natural reaction of parents and relatives. Blood is definitely thicker than water.
In addition, these terrorists share their ransom monies with the communities that serve as their haven so they can mingle freely and safely in the Muslim society in Mindanao. How else to explain why and how the late slain terrorist Marwan was able to operate with his Malaysian aides in Mamasapano for 10 years until he was exposed three years ago?
How can one explain how the Maute group’s foreign operatives were able to maintain a cache of high-powered arms and ammunition in deep tunnels in Marawi City? These were all the work of the terrorists, aided by the relatives and communities of their recruits. These cannot have been accomplished overnight.
This also accounts for the failure of military and police intelligence reports about these terrorist activities.
I will not take on the problem of how we came to this state in Muslim Mindanao, nor blame national leaders for their incompetence. We are at the stage whereby a small group of our legislators are justifying the Maute rebels’ violence and killings as a result of their frustration and disappointment with our government because our Muslim population has been neglected for centuries.
Even our human rights advocates are more concerned about the rights of the criminals than the rights of the dead victims and their families. And nobody—as of this writing—has produced the Maute brothers and Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, dead or alive.
Let me then give my recommendations on how to solve this problem, although the ultimate solution will never be attained so long as our political practices—which are compounded by outside or geopolitical influences—are personal and transactional, or an extension of the family or clan.
Simultaneous with the military campaign, economic initiatives among private business firms/leaders under their avowed corporate social responsibility objectives are pushed with less fanfare all over Mindanao.
These initiatives could involve inviting Middle Eastern investors (because of their common Muslim religion) to Mindanao, considering the natural resources of southern Philippines.
Our private banks can reinvent themselves to offer various timely banking product,s including a sort of futures commodities services for Mindanao alone, considering the risks there.
Private initiatives, some of which are already ongoing, to strengthen medium and small entrepreneurship among families in Mindanao—and throughout the country as well.
Conglomerates must buy directly from producers to eliminate usury among the lower economic levels of our society, especially in Mindanao.
Nevertheless, do not raise expectations. Keep it at realistic levels to avoid disappointments.