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IS in the Philippines Featured

Part 2 – Marawi aftermath
THE Islamic extremist leaders in the battle of Marawi—Isnilon Hapilon of IS and the Maute brothers Omarkhayam Romato and Abdullah of Dawlah Islamiya—were sent posthaste by the police Special Forces to Jannah with its 72 virgins (for each). But like the multi-headed Hydra of Greek mythology, once chopped off, more heads will regrow; and the current “Caliph” of IS in the Middle East, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has many candidates to choose from.


It is estimated that from 2013, 40,000 jihadists from 120 countries joined IS in Iraq and the civil war in Syria. What is disturbing is the approximately 1,000 Southeast Asian, including some from the Philippines, who trained and fought in these arenas. We don’t know how many were killed, but as IS is crushed in these wars and continues to lose territories, especially after the liberation of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, these highly trained and motivated jihadists with their deadly skills are returning to their countries.


The ascendancy of IS and the decline in influence of al-Qaida saw the transfer of allegiance by countless terrorist groups to the former. Among them was the Abu Sayyaf (ASG), founded by Abdurajak Janjalani. After his death in 1998 and a series of assassinated successors, the ASG pledged allegiance to IS in 2014. Fighting for an independent Islamic State in Mindanao, it struck an alliance with the Dawlah Islamiyah of the Maute brothers to establish a foothold in Marawi.


In the Marawi siege, Philippine intelligence reports said that approximately 500 jihadists joined the battle, of which 80 were thought to be foreign fighters. About a dozen of the dead were identified as coming from Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Chechnya, Yemen, Indonesia, Malaysia. These survivors from Marawi could apply their murderous skills in other parts of the country. They could regroup and may not be able to do an encore in Marawi, but they could wreak havoc on communities all over the country like Cotabato, Zamboanga, Basilan and the Sulu provinces. What could be replicated are bomb-making skills and placement of improvised explosive devices (IED) and suicide bombers; both were applied with devastating effect against the US led-coalition armies in Iraq. God help us if the same is employed in our cities and populated areas like Metro Manila.


But how did our country decline to this condition where the Islamic radicals are threatening to dictate their lethal agenda?


Our relations with our Muslim brothers go back centuries. The Crescent Moon and the Star came to the Philippines long before the Cross and the Sword of the Catholic faith were planted in our shores. Predominant in the south, the Moros resisted the Spanish conquistador for centuries, along with the subsequent American and Japanese intrusions. In effect, the Muslims were never a “conquered people.” But the enduring unresolved disputes involved the encroachments of the dominant “Christians” and the other “lowlanders” into their domain, constricting the Moros and their faith into pockets of territories, confined mostly within Mindanao.


Redress of these grievances centered on the economic, political, and cultural marginalization of the Moro,s were never seriously addressed by the Christian-dominated central government until the advent of the separatists Moros elevated the political and economic discourse through the articulate language of violence. From the Kamlon Rebellion in Sulu to the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), wars were intermittently fought. But over the decades, the shortsightedness of a highly centralized government exacerbated these conflicts, culminating in President Erap’s “all-out war” that resulted in an ever-escalating mindless quid pro quo of blood for blood.
These conflicts are no longer just confined to the Philippines although the solutions should have been characteristically Filipino. These centuries-old injustices were cloaked and turned deadly with the passionate divergences in faith and culture. Samuel Huntington succinctly describe this in his book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order. He wrote: “The most important distinctions among peoples are no longer ideological, political or economic. They are cultural. New patterns of conflict will occur along the boundaries of different cultures and patterns of cohesion (and) will be found within cultural boundaries”.


What at first was a countrywide Philippine problem could not simply be bottled up within national boundaries. It has broken out and taken on regional dimensions permeating Southeast Asia and beyond. Like that of the Middle East and the Levant, violence is a cancer that has metastasized.


Tomas Sanford reports: “Many conditions and features in Southeast Asia enable terrorism and insurgency: socioeconomic strain, sectarian friction, small groups of influential religious conservatives, radical ideologies, large archipelagoes and porous borders, preexisting insurgencies, jihadi veterans, permissive immigration rules, and flexible and informal funding networks. And unlike the 1990s and the early 2000s, social media is now everywhere, allowing for easy communications, recruitment, and financial transactions.”


But there are also mitigating factors that the DU30 government has in its favor. The two major separatist groups, the MILF and MNLF, with their weapons on stand-down. are assuming a “wait and see” posture and divining the body language of the Deegong government on the moves towards the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that will provide the Muslims a modicum of autonomy in a federal set-up. On the international stage, the Muslim community rejected and condemned terrorist attacks all over the world: the Bali, Indonesian bombing perpetrated by the Jemaah Islamiyah was one example.


But patience of even the majority moderate Muslims is running short. What we saw in Marawi are “the consequences of a failure of the Philippine government negotiations with Moro insurgents and the growing IS presence across the region—and ones that may be repeated across this large and restive region. ISIS could come to see this as its primary, extra-regional destination as its fortunes continue to tumble in the Middle East and North Africa.” (Anderson)


Before his report to the House committee of foreign affairs’ subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific of the US Congress, Thomas Anderson came up with his conclusion, and I agree with him.


“The violence in Marawi is a stark warning of a convergence of several troublesome factors, including an expanding, insurgent-minded IS, radical ideologies, poor (and violent) governance, highly stressed communities, returning and regional foreign fighters, accessible funding, criminal activity, and adept use of social media.”


And I might add, we can’t allow the Islamic radicals to arrogate unto itself the initiative to settle the Philippine agenda. Marawi’s rehabilitation will be the country’s focus in the coming months. If it goes the way of the “Yolanda-Haiyan” template, Deegong may as well forget about the BBL, his federalism legacy, and kiss his hold on power goodbye.


This article borrows from the testimony of Thomas Anderson, Director and Senior Fellow of the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS); and the book ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, by Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan; and Samuel Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations”.
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