YearEnder 2017: The year of Marawi

Juaniyo Arcellana - The Philippine Star
YearEnder 2017: The year of Marawi

President Duterte and US President Donald Trump chat at the Asean summit gala dinner in November.

MANILA, Philippines — Or what used to be Marawi – of all the stories that went through the central news desk in the year just past, the five-month battle for the Islamic city of Marawi consumed the most reams as well as its slow and painstaking process of rebuilding which has barely started.

Jaime An Lim in his poem “Marawi” scratched the surface of this tragedy: “It was morning once more in the land of Indarapatra… The distant tinkle of a kulintang/from the lake town of Tugaya A woman fetching water from a spring… Who would have thought everything/would change forever?”

If the year started with blood sacrifice, so too must it end. But there comes a time that the body count can get exhausting, the tally not merely figures from a nightmare.

Vials of Dengvaxia, an anti-dengue vaccine that its manufacturer admitted was not advisable for those without a history of dengue.

A grim task was what it was, and which we are only too glad to put behind us. Like blood on the tracks, a twin of year-end storms, the endless war on drugs and a disgruntled gambler shooting up a casino as terrified habitués scampered away shouting, “Isis, Isis!”

Soldiers battle IS-inspired militants in Marawi in a siege that lasted five months.

From national news

The war in Marawi began on May 23, a story initially for the nation page but jumped onto the front-page headline in remat, as the Maute group combined with an Abu Sayyaf faction led by Isnilon Hapilon laid siege to the city as President Duterte and his party were on a state visit to Russia, which forced him to cut short his trip and declare martial law in Mindanao.

As the days dragged into weeks and weeks into months, it became clear that this was no Butig or Zamboanga, but a long-drawn complicated battle involving house-to-house urban clash, and when the smoke cleared in October, the death count exceeded a thousand and most of the city reduced to rubble, which even the most graphic of photographs could not do justice to.

A spawn of the war in Marawi was the declaration of martial law in the southern third of the country, ostensibly to rein in the terrorist threat taking root in Mindanao.

Originally scheduled for a couple of months as per the Constitution, it was extended up to yearend by an act of Congress and though the Islamic city was eventually declared free of the scourge, the same Congress approved Duterte’s request for an extended military rule for the whole of 2018.

The opposition sounded the alarm on a creeping authoritarianism, including reminders of the dark days of the Marcos regime, but the Chief Executive did little to allay fears and instead used the nationwide martial law bogey like a tool of political terrorism.

Impeachment: flavor of the seaon

Impeachment became the flavor of the season well into the year, with Commission on Elections chairman Andres Bautista having been forced to resign amid allegations of ill-gotten wealth by his estranged wife, Chief Justice Marie Lourdes Sereno facing a protracted impeachment in Congress next year, with articles just about to be sent to the Senate for trial and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales being threatened with the same political process for reportedly favoring her purported benefactors of the past administration.

Even Duterte flirted with the possibility, but this was promptly shot down by his super majority in Congress. It is the Sereno impeachment case that could take a good deal of lawmakers’ time when sessions resume.

Setbacks in drug war

The centerpiece war on drugs suffered some setbacks in the past year with the belated discovery of the murder of a Korean national right in national police headquarters, followed by the controversial killings of teenagers in Caloocan City in anti-drug operations by police elements, forcing Duterte to temporarily pull out the police from the narcotics war or at least lie low for a while.

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency was designated lead agency in the fight against the drugs scourge, despite its being said to be undermanned. The agency head took issue with the police chief’s claim that crime was again on the rise with the pullout, and that those critical of the drug war were ingrates.

Grandiose ASEAN 50

In November, the Duterte administration pulled out all the stops with the country’s hosting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit on the group’s 50th anniversary. To its credit, there was none of the logistical foul ups and daang cerrado of the second Aquino administration’s hosting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in 2015, though admittedly that was a much larger event.

Highlights of the talk shop were the stopover at a fast food chain by the Canadian leader, and Duterte himself singing a duet with Asia’s queen of songs to the delight of US President Donald Trump, who described the Philippine leader as “a good guy.”

As expected the group steered clear of controversial issues in its communiqué, with no mention of local extrajudicial killings or the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar.


Sen. Leila de Lima, who was arrested on drug charges, and a mass protest over the killing of 17-year-old Kian Loyd delos Santos in Caloocan City and other minors in police anti-drug operations. Boy Santos

Detaining De Lima

Almost lost in the mix was the arrest in February of Sen. Leila de Lima on drug-related charges during her tenure as justice secretary and convicted lords ran their nefarious business from inside the national penitentiary.

She got support from parliamentarians in Europe as well as other rights activists in the west, although her continued detention reeked of a lingering scapegoatism that seeks to lay blame on the past administration, and is widely seen as old politicos back in power just trying to return a favor, and not just Duterte but others whose lives she might have made difficult.

Not exactly a poster girl for human rights, she occasionally issues handwritten statements from detention that deserve careful reading.

Twin storms in the south

The yearend twin storms of Urduja and Vinta wreaked havoc on the southern part of the country, including Biliran, Cagayan de Oro, the Lanao povinces and Zamboanga peninsula, leading to the loss of hundreds of lives and untold damage to agriculture and infrastructure.

There’s something about tropical storms coming late in the year and hitting areas previously unscathed by weather disturbances, and not just simple climate science. The death toll might have been reduced considerably had residents only heeded warnings to evacuate, authorities said.

Sour relations with Reds

The peace talks with the communists have all but collapsed, with Duterte and the exiled leftist leader Jose Maria Sison trading long-distance barbs and left-leaning members of the Cabinet rejected by the Commission on Appointments.

The President’s former college professor speaks in a language that might have seen better days of bureaucrat capitalism and landlord compradors, while Duterte branded the rebels as dishonorable terrorists and vowed to kill anyone who would destroy his country, whether related to drugs or otherwise.

Glitches, glitches, glitches

It’s already 2018 but the metro page is still teeming with glitches and recurrent malfunction of the MRT-3, for which most of the blame was pinned on the maintenance provider contracted by the previous administration.

YouScoopers had a field day posting social media footage of harrowing train episodes, including doors opening between stations, leaking roofs and commuters blacking out.

The considerably dwindling road space and affordable car plans contributed further to the traffic crisis, even as some bottlenecks identified in areas where the skyway meant to link the south and north Luzon expressways continued to be concrete slabs of eyesores and pylons constructed at glacial pace.

Casino carnage

What was previously thought as a lone wolf attack on a casino hotel turned out to be a suicide vendetta by a chronic gambler whose losses piled up to the point that he was banned from casinos.

Shortly past that midnight of June, the attacker terrorized Resorts World Manila, torching gaming tables and slot machines, and helping himself to gambling chips in a stock room.

By midmorning, the body count had piled up to dozens dead, trapped in a smoke-filled hall and indicating a potential for violence as both an isolated case and a symptom of an intemperate society.

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