Lessons from Marawi

HINDSIGHT - F. Sionil Jose (The Philippine Star) - January 5, 2019 - 12:00am

(No Man Left Behind, by P. R. Fortuno, 384 pp, P980)

Marawi, Mindanao’s brightest jewel of a city but now a wasteland, is a stark reminder to any secessionist movement that this country cannot be dismembered. It is also one more shining monument to the valor of the Filipino soldier; 168 of them were killed there, together with about 50 civilians and nearly a thousand terrorists who subscribed to the ISIS tenets.

Marawi evokes many happy memories for me. I knew it in the 1950s as Dansalan, when I was a journalist for the Sunday Manila Times Magazine writing about Mindanao, the promised land for the land-hungry in Luzon and Visayas. Mindanao then was a big, big blank for most Filipinos. I covered the fabulous wedding of Emily Marohombsar; the Marohombsars were considered the creme de la creme of Maranao society and the bride, who would later become Mindanao State University’s first woman president, was also very beautiful.

One of my closest friends was Mamitua Saber, a scholar of Maranao culture and history. I met the father of former Senator Mike Tamano in his traditional Maranao house, and I saw Singkil, the most beautiful and most complicated of Philippine folk dances, performed by Maranao youth themselves rather than a university folk dance troupe.

The Moro problem is not religious, but religion is being used to exacerbate it. It is about land and political power, and the ancient conflict between tradition and modernity. The Marawi siege, which lasted five months, is perhaps its most tragic culmination, and carries many lessons for us all.

These lessons are in No Man Left Behind by Scout Ranger Philip Fortuno. The book covers the daily battles in the siege, and the historical roots of the Moro problem, how it ballooned and became infiltrated by Middle East radicalism. Written with firsthand knowledge and understanding, it is a gripping, detailed narrative that describes the difficulties of our soldiers, outnumbered and outgunned at the start, the gallantry and perseverance not only of the Ranger companies but of the regular Army units and the civilian officials of Marawi who stood their ground.

The Rangers were well-trained in guerilla tactics but not well-equipped. The companies dispatched to Marawi crossed mountains and jungles when they should have been airlifted by helicopters. For the first time, too, the Army, more adept in jungle rather than urban operations, was exposed to the problems of urban warfare of a greater magnitude, involving brutal foreign fighters and violent religious extremism. It was not prepared to fight an enemy well-entrenched in closely adjacent buildings where, as the Rangers often realized, it was only a wall that separated them from their enemies. But the Marawi houses are built like fortresses for defense in the vicious clan wars, and they had difficulty drilling holes in those walls to flush out the enemy.  

They also realized how important it is to have the people on their side, not only to provide intelligence but also so that they could understand how giving sanctuary to the terrorists would affect their communities. Some of the Marawi residents knew the terrorists were in their midst but could not inform on them for they were relatives. But during the siege, the Maranaos showed compassion – they protected the Christians with whom they shared the same dangers.

Philip Fortuno concludes that young Moros must be nurtured and educated in the real tenets of Islam because it is a religion of peace, and that the process of winning their trust starts with education. In the very depressed areas of Southern Lanao, there are not enough public schools and, in many instances, simple, safe drinking water and artesian wells are lacking. It is in these deprived regions where the very young are easily indoctrinated to hate the government and Christians.  

Post Marawi, it must now be very clear to the Moro rebels that armed rebellion will not succeed. The Philippine state and its Armed Forces will not permit it. The Armed Forces is the army of the people and it is this army which keeps the country together. There should be more Moros in it, not just in its lowest ranks but in its officer corps.

As for the Moros, they should understand that they have never been oppressed. Neither are they our poorest. In this benighted country, the most oppressed, the real minorities, are the landless workers, our very poor, who have no access to justice, to healthcare, to higher education, who sleep on the sidewalks, and who eat only once a day.

Even without the new Bangsamoro Law, our Moros are as free as all other Filipinos. In this struggle for nationhood, and for political and social ascendancy, there is no stopping them. In those regions they dominate, they are power holders as politicians, and can pursue professions of their choice.

Social change should be clearly understood. To do this, the Moros should also look carefully at their own societies and realize that it is their datu system which inhibits social mobility. And the internal wars between clans and families – the rido – has cost them so much. They should, as all Filipinos should, consider public office as a public trust. Nur Misuari, the Tausug leader – what did he do when he got all that power and money?

Sure, we must all know more about Moro history. They can contribute so much to the shaping of the Filipino identity because Moro culture is also very rich. From my own perspective as a writer, I wonder who will replace writers like Ibrahim Jubaira, who opened a window to Moro life.  

Minority conflicts have festered all over the world, some for centuries and yet still unresolved. Men and women of good will on both sides of the conflict have persevered to bring peace, knowing as they do that without peace there can be no development. This is perhaps the most important lesson that Marawi can teach all of us.

  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with