‘Daring escape’

There is a disturbing report that “dozens” of ISIS-linked militants, alongside about 30 hostages, believed to be including a Catholic priest, have escaped. This means they have abandoned the city of Marawi.

Indeed, a daring escape, reminiscent of the movie “The Great Escape”! The movie is a true story of Allied prisoners plotting to break out of Nazi detention camp.

Marawi City is virtually encircled and the Lake is sealed from all sides. Why did the escape happen?  Other people’s guesses can be as bad or good as ours. Frankly, there are more mysteries than explanations in this happening in Marawi City.

However, we received a fresh report early today (August 26) that a major fighting occurred in the city last night, clearly contradicting the first report. If the second report is true, then the militants were merely engaged in a ruse.

The Marawi Crisis has already entered its fourth month, and the end is yet to happen. In the past, the military had given several timetables to finish off the job, but none one happened so far. The Maute group simply continued to pitch in the city and engaged the military, mostly in sniping.

A revisit of this crisis, therefore, is very important. We can draw many lessons from it, both good and bad.

The truth is, for whatever reason or reasons, three months of bloody combat with government, using all firepower in its arsenal, is too long as per our experience. Nobody can amply explain the Maute Group’s staying power or the inability of military to terminate the crisis.

The Maute group is a very small force, compared to the MILF. Its strength lies in the use of full guerrilla warfare, which seems is not the case. They preferred a more stationary combat, defying conventional rules of warfare that a weaker force can only effectively fight a stronger force by resorting to highly mobile tactics.

Of course, whether later or sooner, the Maute group will be uprooted from the city. They will be drained off physically and their resources dry up. If this does not happen, the answer might be found elsewhere.

Clearly, the Maute group does not enjoy popular support for now. But the civilians are caught between two evils, the Maute group’s terrorism and the massive destruction caused by artillery bombardment and aerial bombing. Add the heightening perception of the people that the government is going to drive them away, because the city is sitting on mostly military reservations. Add also the perceived lukewarm attitude of the government and the Lower House of Congress in fast-tracking the passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

All these can add to the list of legitimate grievances of the Bangsamoro people that government has to address. Failure to do so by government will perpetuate the conflict in Mindanao.

Seriously speaking, many of the youths who joined the radical groups in Mindanao have openly admitted that frustrations were one of the reasons why they have gone their way. When people especially the young, who are idealistic, energetic, and adventurous, are fed up, they will look for anything which can allow them to download or vent their anger. For now, they cannot sufficiently find it with the MNLF or MILF, because these fronts have entered into peace agreements with government, and are committed to see the full implementation of these agreements. Consequently, these youths have to look elsewhere where they can identify themselves and provide them the necessary launching pod.