THE Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) prides itself in having supposedly known about the plan of the terrorist Maute Group to swoop down on Marawi City ahead of the actual attack on May 23.
Perhaps it did. But the fact is that the bandit band affiliated with the Islamic State (IS) had been digging in for 31 days in the capital of Lanao del Sur in southern Mindanao and continuing to spring surprises on the evidently embarrassed military authorities.
And then there were the millions in cash, the shabu, the high-powered firearms and ammunition and who knows what other resources and materiel that government troops would stumble on as they battled it out with an enemy whom the bemedaled AFP generals had obviously underestimated as a ragtag band that supposedly emerged from the separatist Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), or the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), or both.
One telling surprise was that the AFP apparently did not realize that the Maute terrorists seemed to have been versatile enough to engage soldiers in both guerrilla and conventional warfare, with which the Armed Forces is more familiar and for which it suffered the bloody consequences.
It was, therefore, a no-brainer for the military to be reportedly finding tunnels and other underground passages that summon images of the people’s armies of Mao or Ho Chi Minh fighting and eventually winning their wars of liberation from Asian and Western colonizers.
The tunnels’ presence would mean that their builders had all the time in the world to build them and that they were completed with inside help, probably from members of the families of the Maute bandits and their extended families in the MNLF or MILF or both.
The possibility of the apparently never-say-die stance of the Maute Group terrorists rooted in blood being thicker than water cannot, therefore, be discounted.
Wonder no more why, in what the Armed Forces calls clearing-up operations in Marawi—which also means that it is all over but for the shouting for the bandits—no reports on the civilian population of the city tipping off the government troops on the whereabouts and wherewithal of the attackers have been recorded.
In contrast, an attempt by the Abu Sayyaf, another IS-affiliated terrorist band, to sneak into Bohol province in the Central Visayas last month immediately fizzled out because rural folk lost no time in informing local authorities about sightings of armed men in their communities.
But Bohol being a Christian-majority area—it is not known if there are any Muslim communities there—can easily explain the action taken by the people of the province.
Over the weekend, President Duterte said the government knew that Muslim rebels were accumulating guns and ammunition in Marawi City but that authorities did not intervene because of the peace negotiations with the MNLF and the MILF.
For that hesitation, the Duterte administration is paying the price, with the President saying the Maute Group may have acquired its stash from the two secessionist groups, among other sources.
While it is ironing out a peace agreement with the MILF, the government earlier said that it won’t be talking with the MNLF on the peace pact that the Nur Misuari-led group forged with the Ramos administration in 1996.
Better for Presidente Duterte to rethink twice or even thrice what good resuming talks with the MILF will bring when the separatists are arming themselves with a shadow warrior in the Maute Group.
Meanwhile, the President has assured soldiers they “will never run out of weapons… in everything you need. I won’t let you down.”
Of course, they won’t, even if he seems to be talking about a protracted war that, who knows, could outlast his six-year term that ends in 2022.
But if by chance the government were to end soon the stand-off in Marawi City, it should ask for nothing less than the unconditional surrender of the Maute Group.And then it should run after those who harbored its combatants and supporters and caused the death of soldiers and civilians, and not allow itself to be held back by the prospect of a peace agreement miraculously rising from the ashes of the city.