ENTERING the 24th day of fighting in Marawi City, we believe it will help public comprehension of the situation if we shift our perspectives on the struggle for control of the city and its attendant implication for the whole of Mindanao.
Since May 23, when fighting began in Marawi, the media and the public have viewed the situation only as a matter of clearing the Muslim-majority city of Maute rebels and ending the hostilities and the Maute rebellion.
Relatedly, we have seen it as a test for the proclamation of martial law in Mindanao. Depending on how the Marawi crisis was resolved, martial law would prove itself as the necessary and correct solution to the crisis.
From this perspective, public hopes have been buoyed by the repeated announcement of deadlines by the Armed Forces that the rebellion would soon be ended—only to be dashed by the subsequent announcement that the promised liberation would not happen according to the deadline set.
Now, the media and the public must recognize a change in how the AFP sees the situation. The AFP has formally revealed that it is dealing with formidable resistance to its efforts to clear Marawi. Well-armed rebel forces are fighting back. Foreign snipers appear to be holding the line for the rebels. In a major shift in its messaging, the AFP said it will no longer set any deadlines for an end to the fighting.
This is not to say, of course, that the nation must now brace itself or settle for a war without end. This only means that the public and the media should recognize that resolution of the Marawi crisis will be drawn-out, difficult, bloody, and demanding of the best that our soldiery and police can give.
The incontrovertible fact that has emerged from Marawi is that what is taking place there is nothing less than a fierce struggle for control of Marawi between 1) rebels and foreign fighters on one side who fight under the black flag of the Islamic State (IS), and 2) the police and security forces of the Philippine republic, which has incontestable sovereignty over Marawi and all of Mindanao and the rest of the Philippines.
Our appreciation of the situation becomes more realistic when we shift the picture to the magnitude of the challenge raised by Maute and its foreign supporters.
The objective of the rebel forces is to create an Islamic State outpost in Southeast Asia, using the Philippines as base.
In testimony before the Supreme Court, government lawyers spelled out what military intelligence has learned about the extent of Maute objectives, and the essence of the plot to invade Marawi. This was a single-minded IS operation to take control of a major Mindanao city as a stepping stone towards taking all of Mindanao.
Ranged against this ambitious goal is the sworn duty and unflinching resolve of the Philippine military and Philippine government to preserve and protect every inch of national territory, and the welfare, safety and security of the Filipino people and the republic.
There should be no doubt that government troops remain focused on flushing out the Maute group in Marawi City and defeating their challenge to the government. The AFP is already deploying a wide range of its weaponry in the fight.
As of yesterday, more than 200 members of the Maute group have been killed; almost 60 government troops and some 26civilians have died in the struggle for Marawi.
This is a heavy toll. But it is light when weighed against what is truly at stake in the fighting there. The struggle in Marawi is not just about one city and its future. In fact, it is a struggle for the entirety and the future of Mindanao.