Thursday, October 26, 2017

Lessons Learned from the Liberation of Marawi

photo from PBA
By Chester B Cabalza

Blogger's Notes:
Commentary of an Academic 
(Copyright @ 2017 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).

The death of Maute group leader Omar Maute who was shot in the head and Abu Sayyaf cum Southeast Asia’s ISIS emir Isnilon Hapilon whose gunshots to the chest ambiguously pacified fear in Mindanao as President Rodrigo Duterte announced yesterday the liberation of the besieged Marawi City since May 23.

Almost five months before these top two Filipino terrorist leaders accidentally crumbled from the hands of snipers while rescuing local hostages, Philippine authorities was able to bring down Malaysian terrorist trailblazer Dr. Mahmud Ahmad who joined the ISIS-inspired Maute group before the real emancipation of the Marawi ends; two more months within the prescribed Martial Law in Mindanao expires.

As the Marawi conundrum draws near to an end, what are the important lessons learned that the security sector, particularly the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and the Association of Southeast Asia Nations, in general, should consider?

The underlying factor here comes with the reality that terrorism is the biggest security challenge in the Philippines and Southeast Asia. This pandemonium threat forms a multi-faceted phenomenon that resembles an iceberg constituting the tip of shocking attacks with wide base founding substantial concerns on the persistence of religious radicalization and poverty.  To annihilate and wipe out an iceberg, it has to be destroyed from the base. Similarly, terrorism should be treated properly to conscientiously address the socio-economic issues that support the tip.

Failure of intelligence sharing and government interoperability could be attributed to the weakness of the military to instantaneously contain terrorist cells in Mindanao. Terrorism in Marawi has changed the rules of war gaming as Filipino soldiers struggled to win the conflict at its own backyard. A backward military doctrine did not cope with the hybrid and urban warfare simulated by jihadi terrorists in a well-planned crucible. Terrorism comes broad in nature and counterterrorism needs holistic approaches to prevent terrorism. Incorporation of practice, military tactical operations, government strategies, strict law enforcement, treatises and intelligence sharing to combat a transborder crime are precursors in addressing the causes of radicalism and religious extremism in the region.

Retaliation from terrorist sympathizers will surely attack the crusaders and antiterrorists whose objective is to bring down the government and sow more terror to the civilians. This traditional act of vendetta killing to avenge a perceived affront or injustice has been widely practiced in Mindanao through clan feuds and ethnic tensions popularly called rido, rooted in the local culture of the dominant Muslim groups in southern Philippines.  Given a centuries old practice, the Philippine security sector must find effective counterterrorism measures to deflate the high pressure out of this customary tradition.

The apparent flaw of Philippine judicial system to implement and consider landmark cases for the decade-old antiterrorism act proves the legal downside of the unsound statute. But more than the enactment of crafted laws against terrorism, the key to prescribe remedies on the social ills of terror acts lies in addressing the holistic socioeconomic conditions in Mindanao and Southeast Asia as a whole, paramount to delivering basic services to the marginalized sector including the victims of terrorism should be handedly prioritized.

Sovereignty issues and disparities in internal security apparatuses among the defenses of member-countries around the region are among the handicaps to foster further cooperation in line with large intelligence sharing and the prohibition of foreign forces from directly engaging in actual combat on respective sovereign territories. This despite that Southeast Asia houses indigenous Islamic militant groups and terrorists. The convergence and divergence of these groupings depend on the intensity of cooperation through the strict application of punitive and preventive law enforcement measures based from the factual root causes of terrorism either ideological or socioeconomic.

Rebuilding and rehabilitation of Marawi need not solely a political act from the government but a synergy of efforts from the international community, civil society and Filipino citizens. The Philippines must learn from its mistakes during the recovery from the Haiyan supertyphoon, though considered a natural disaster, templates on best practices must be gauged to consider the impact of rebuilding a city, that is a daunting task ahead and as massive and substantial as to what the Marawi siege has gone so far, becoming one of the largest and longest human-induced hazards in the country.  Finally, development and education become the medium and long term solutions to cease the operation of terrorism in poverty-laden and ideologically misguided archipelago.