First of a series
NOW that Marawi City has been liberated, the government must launch a “very pro-active, relevant program to counter and prevent violent extremism,” according to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
“The battle for the liberation of Marawi is just the beginning of a continuing battle against extremist terrorists, or rebels in Mindanao. Why do we say that? Because we may be able to liberate Marawi but they have planted seeds of violent extremism among the minds of many Muslims…So, we have to cure the poisoned minds of many of our citizens,” said Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla Jr., the AFP spokesman.
Padilla said the government must particularly counter efforts to recruit from the “vulnerable sector.”
“It’s two-fold: the children whose minds might be corrupted, and women who are vulnerable. They are targets of these extremist groups. Most of them belong to the uneducated, impoverished classes, who they can influence to join their group in exchange for money. `Yun ang kailangan nating protektahan (We must protect them),” he said.
Padilla, however, clarified that not all Maute members were poor, as the extremists also recruited members from schools. “Several of their recruits were not poor. They were educated.”
Education is key
Mindanao State University (MSU) President Habib Macaayong said the Maute extremist group had tried to recruit students and professors from the MSU main campus in Marawi City months before the terrorists seized the city. The Maute, however, failed.
Asked why the Maute failed to convince MSU students to join them, Macaayong responded: “MSU students are intellectuals.”
“They cannot be motivated with this kind (of advocacy) if the purpose is destroying human lives, destroying property. They do not participate in that,” he said.
“The Maute managed to recruit the poor ones in the outskirts of Lanao del Sur,” he added.
Macaayong said the university came up with a program to dissuade MSU students from embracing radicalism or extremism.
MSU is one of the over 100 state universities and colleges nationwide. Its has 11 campuses throughout Mindanao with its main campus located at the heart of Marawi City.
“We are educating them through formal education, seminars, forums, emphasizing to them the bad outcome or what happened to Marawi City because of the siege. It (extremism) gives us no advantage,” he said.
MSU is set to open master’s and doctorate programs in peace and development. “We want all students in all academic programs of the Mindanao State University to take three units of peace studies so that they will grow as peaceful citizens. They will cooperate in the promotion of peace. These are the things that we are going to do not only inside MSU but also throughout Lanao del Sur and Marawi City,” Macaayong said.
Security analyst Richard Heydarian said the government should fast-track and sustain the reconstruction program in Marawi City so that President Rodrigo Duterte would be able to fulfill his promise to help Marawi “rise from the ashes.”
“I think if you don’t get the Marawi reconstruction right and fast, what you have (are) 300,000 people in limbo, in refugee camps. That’s a huge number of people,” he said.
Still, the government must be given enough time to rehabilitate Marawi. “One year is too fast. I don’t think one year is doable. But two years is a decent performance. But in the meantime they have to have temporary shelters, they have to be well-provided for.”
“So, the challenge for Duterte is two-track: respond simultaneously. One track is counter-terrorism and we need maximum help from China and other friends. But the other more important track is really development and reconstruction and getting the peace process right,” Heydarian said.
Macaayong has sought an additional budget from Congress for the construction of the perimeter fence of the MSU, to prevent lawless elements from entering the campus and harming school employees and students.
“We have submitted (a proposal for the) construction of two dormitories for our students because we are going to pull out the students living in the dormitories outside the MSU campus especially the Christian students. We want them to be housed inside the campus in our dormitories so that they can be more secured,” he said.
The MSU also proposed a housing project for faculty members who live in Iligan City, to protect them from “the risks involved in traveling.”
“We have also proposed to the Senate the funding of the psychosocial aspect, because the city government and the provincial government has requested a psychosocial aspect from us in terms of guidance counseling for the victims and evacuees because they were experiencing so much problems, so that they can pacified, motivated to go in normal life,” Macaayong said.
“We have students in downtown Marawi City whose houses have been destroyed by either [the Islamic State]or local terrorists, or the military when they bombed these houses because there were terrorists hiding there,” he said.
“Since students and employees have no houses to stay that gives us another problem of accommodating them in the university dormitories,” he added.
Pressed to comment on reports that some young Muslims in Marawi have started to harbor resentment against the military after seeing their houses in ruins because of military air strikes, Padilla said, “They know that their homes are damaged.”
“The government has given guarantees that they will help. And the Armed Forces (leadership) has said, ‘We will not leave this place shattered and destroyed.’ That’s why we have engineers there,” he said.
“That’s why we have Joint Task Group Lanao to link up (with other concerned agencies in determining) what has to be done to help our citizens,” he said.
Padilla added: “This is a task not only of the Armed Forces but with local government, and we will also partner with private sector to help ensure the rise of Marawi.”
To be continued