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Mindanao a laboratory again?

As President Duterte expands his targets of opportunity, it is once again Mindanao – yes, his beloved Mindanao – that will be the laboratory of this 21st-century version of Marcos’ war

by Patricio N. Abinales 


The irony about President Rodrigo Duterte declaring martial law in the entire island of Mindanao is that he is not coming out as the decisive leader who will give Islamic terrorism and communist extortion their comeuppance. It is, in fact, the opposite.

It is an admission of how little Duterte has done to eradicate the root causes of these two acts of terrorism. 

The debut of another variety of Islamic terrorism is a major slap in the President’s face. The local (and still evolving) chapter of ISIS signifies that all those pledges Duterte made to reverse the setbacks to the peace process resulting from his predecessor’s (mis)adventure in Tukanalipao, Mamapasano, is turning out to be empty promises. 

There is virtually no movement in the crafting of the necessary mechanics for the efficient functioning of the Bangsamoro Entity (or whatever new name it will assume) once it is established. 

The peace talks are in suspended animation since the new panel was organized (perhaps the regime is more concerned with bringing the communists to the fold), while Moro civil society leaders and management staff of government offices involved in the training of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) guerrillas in the art of daily governance (from filling up forms to monitoring revenues and expenses, etc.) are increasingly being frustrated by the lack of guidance from the top. 

Ever the pragmatic organization that it is, the MILF has not commented on the government’s clumsiness, making just enough of a presence so that it would not be forgotten. It has not disbanded its armed force and has kept control over its territory, made possible in part by the continuing friendly relationship its field commanders have with their counterparts in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). 

But the MILF is also a wounded organization, with the defection of many of its battle-scarred fighters to Umbra Kato’s more sectarian Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. It is still unable to prevent its forces from being caught in the never ending rido that afflicts the ummah. It was only a matter of time that another breakaway faction of the MILF would make itself felt. The new actor, the Maute group, is showing some panache by latching to the cash-rich ISIS. (READ: What you should know about the Maute Group)

What about the AFP?

The AFP was like a deer caught in the headlights. It has units with designated security sectors to oversee, but it is clear that the Army’s 1st Infantry Division, whose mission is the security in Marawi and the environs, knew nothing of the Maute group’s presence in the area. When the Maute group started its assaults, it was the initiative of local commanders that stopped the attacks. 

Neither is the line between field and headquarters clear: government spokespersons in Manila were minimizing the impact of the clashes, telling journalists and their audience not to believe what they see on social media. The latter, however, were sharing news from cellphone texts, photos, and videos sent by friends and kin in Marawi.

The most derisory spin was given by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. What happened was not a lapse in military intelligence that allowed the Maute Group to enter Marawi. It was a failure “to appreciate” whatever the local spies gave the intelligence unit of the 1st Infantry Division. Lorenzana did not say who failed “to appreciate” the intelligence reports. Keeping it vague exonerates Camp Aguinaldo, and, by extension, Malacañang.

Thus, for over 12 hours no one knew anything definite, including – I suspect – the President and his team in Malacañang (a side question: what kind of information was conveyed to the caretaker committee led by Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno from Marawi and what did Diokno, in turn, tell the President?). The result is a proclamation that was hastily written and improperly formatted (Can a proclamation by the President of the Philippines be notarized with the statement: “Done in the Russian Federation”? Duterte thinks so).

Stoking the flame

More bothering is that the proclamation exaggerates the threat of the Maute Group and thus allows its author to endow the police and the military the carte blanche to do anything to individuals, groups, and communities. Muslim and Christian.

Duterte stoked the flame by warning that the police and army can shoot anyone who violates the curfew in the 4 Moro provinces where freedom of movement was curtailed. In his press conference upon arriving from Moscow, the President even suggested that he might just expand martial law to cover the entire country and for an extended period. His justification: droga, of course.

The panic over Marawi has not only turned into an anxiety over a failure to bring peace and continue the progress in Mindanao, but also into a disquiet that the promise he anchored his presidency on – the war on drugs – will never be fulfilled. 

What makes things doubly scarier now is that President Duterte has concocted this bizarre alliance that has the Maute Group linked to drug syndicates, human rights groups and their European Union patrons, and the US State Department. 

As the President expands his targets of opportunity and makes it easier for them to be attacked, thanks to his martial law declaration, it is once again Mindanao – yes, his beloved Mindanao – that will be the laboratory of this 21st-century version of Ferdinand Marcos’ war. – Rappler.com

Patricio N. Abinales is an OFW.


Marawi crisis: What we know so far


Editor's note: This is a developing story. We will update this as new information comes in.

MANILA, Philippines (First published May 24, 2017, 12:04 p.m.) — President Rodrigo Duterte has declared martial law for 60 days over Mindanao following the firefight between military forces and the ISIS-inspired Maute fighters on Tuesday.

Duterte's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which was scheduled to happen on Thursday, has been brought forward to Tuesday evening to allow his hasty return to the Philippines. Duterte has cut short his official visit and is expected to return to the country by Wednesday to deal with the conflict.

Duterte told Putin that he is counting on Russia to supply weapons for the fight against terrorism in the Philippines as he cozies up with non-traditional ally Moscow and veers away from longtime partner the United States.


New: Armed Forces public affairs chief Col. Edgard Arevalo said the death toll is now at 21: 13 militants, five soldiers, a security guard and two policemen. Meanwhile, 31 others were wounded.

New: Duterte, at a press conference shortly after arriving from Russia on Wednesday, said a police chief was stopped at a militant checkpoint and was beheaded. PNP spokesman Chief Supt. Dionardo Carlos, meanwhile, said they have not received reports on the beheading of civilians.

New: 120 civilians used as human shields by militants holed up at the Amai Pakpak Medical Center were rescued, Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. said.

New: Duterte said that he might extend army rule to Visayas and Luzon. He also announced that he had ordered the Philippine Navy to set a blockade in the waters between Mindanao and Visayas.

New: Duterte said that the privilege of habeas corpus had been suspended. He added that government security forces may conduct searches and set up checkpoints on the Philippines' second largest island.

The Philippine National Police has been put on full alert status nationwide. All unit commanders were directed to strengthen security in all vital installations and public places. The Social Welfare department also activated its red alert status.


Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi are on heightened alert. Cotabato City residents were told to take "extra-precautionary measures" as a triple red alert status was raised by the city government after sightings of alleged terrorists there. Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, meanwhile, revised her "on lockdown" declaration over the city. Davao City is now under a "hold-and-secure situation," where travel to and from the city is discouraged.

The Western Mindanao Command says it is waiting for the written guidelines on how to implement the declared martial law.
Conflicting statements by authorities causing confusion.
107 inmates escaped from two Marawi City jails—Malabang District Jail 39 and Marawi City Jail—after Maute gunmen attack.
Liberal Party president Sen. Francis Pangilinan says Congress will look into the basis of the martial law declaration.
A constitutional expert and rights group expressed concern over the declaration of martial law.
A priest, two church workers and 10 parishioners were taken hostage by the militants. A teacher was also reportedly taken as hostage.
Gunshots have so far halted, according to the Marawi City mayor. Some residents have evacuated while others opted to lock themselves indoors.

Here's what we know so far:

The gunbattle began after government troops raided the hideout of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon in Marawi City, a largely Muslim city with a population of over 200,000. The US Department of Justice has listed the Abu Sayyaf leader among the most-wanted terrorists worldwide, with a reward of up to $5 million for his capture. Hapilon's group called for reinforcement from its ally, the Maute. The Maute was blamed for the bomb attack in Duterte's hometown of Davao City last September which killed 15.
Hapilon, an Arabic-speaking preacher known for his expertise in commando assaults, has pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2014, according to security officials. He reportedly has been chosen to lead an ISIS branch in Southeast Asia. But Philippine and US security officials assert there is no formal IS presence in the Philippines, citing the "worldwide phenomenon" where existing terror groups affiliate themselves with ISIS.
Hapilon, who is still recovering from wounds sustained in a military airstrike in January, and more than a dozen of his men summoned reinforcements. Armed Forces chief Gen. Eduardo Año said nearly 50 gunmen entered the city. Meanwhile, Marawi City Mayor Majul Usman Gandamra said in an interview with ANC's "Headstart" that he thinks the number may be from 100 to 200.
Gandamra said the attack caught them by surprise. He said they knew something will happen and are on alert but did not expect the number of Maute militants who entered the city. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said there was no failure of intelligence in the Marawi situation but admitted there was "lack of appreciation" of information.
Some 20 gunmen took position in a hospital and raised a black ISIS flag. A photo shared on the Facebook page of the Peace and Conflict Journalism Network showed a Maute fighter mounting an ISIS flag on a police vehicle the terror group sequestered.

Lorenzana said dozens of gunmen occupied the city hall—a claim countered by the Marawi City mayor—hospital and jail and burned the St. Mary's Church, the city jail, the Ninoy Aquino school and Dansalan College as well as some houses. Power was also cut while Maute snipers were all around. Troops and police engaged in a firefight with 10 other militants who went near the jail.
The mayor advised residents to stay indoors during the height of the tension.
Troops sealed off major entry and exit points to prevent Hapilon from escaping. Military reinforcements are also coming in from Zamboanga City and Manila. The Marawi City mayor said on Wednesday early morning that he is waiting for their arrival.
A Marawi teacher named Noddy Summer said residents remain locked up indoors until Wednesday morning. She added that her colleague was taken as a hostage by the militants.
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines also released a statement saying Father Chito Suganob and others who were in the Cathedral of Our Lady Help of Christians were also taken as hostage. The CBCP said the militants have threatened to kill the hostages "if the government forces unleashed against them are not recalled."
Gandamra said no more gunshots were heard in the area but they are still monitoring the situation. He said schools will remain closed until the government takes full control of the situation.
He said sightings of Maute fighters are still reported but assured the public that Marawi City is till under the control of the government.
Lorenzana also assured that the government remains in control of the situation in Marawi City.
Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said the grounds for martial law, which covers the entire Mindanao island effective 10 p.m. Tuesday, is the "existence of rebellion."
The declaration will help government forces carry out searches and arrests and detain rebel suspects more quickly, Lorenzana said.
The military has supported the martial law declaration but Philippine Constitution expert Christian Monsod said what happened in Marawi City does not meet the definition of rebellion as cited in the Revised Penal Code:

"The crime of rebellion or insurrection is committed by rising publicly and taking arms against the government for the purpose of removing from the allegiance to said Government or its laws, the territory of the Republic of the Philippines or any part thereof, of any body of land, naval or other armed forces, or depriving the Chief Executive or the Legislature, wholly or partially, of any of their powers or prerogatives."

He said he thinks what happened was lawless violence as it does not involve the purpose of removing allegiance to the government or its laws any part of the territory of the Philippines.

Karapatan also warned that the declaration might aggravate insecurity in the area and lead to human rights violations. The Commission on Human Rights urged the government to uphold human rightsamid the martial law declaration.

Police said Metro Manila is on full alert status meaning maximum attendance of cops is ensured. Police said no one is allowed to file a leave and those on leave will be recalled.

— Mikas Matsuzawa with reports from Roel Pareño, John Unson and AP


No link to ISIS, no martial law

POSTSCRIPT By Federico D. Pascual Jr. (The Philippine Star)

WITHOUT the supposed ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) link to the Maute terror attack on Marawi City this week, the group’s depredation was just the usual lawlessness that state forces should be able to suppress without imposing martial law in Mindanao.

The combined might of the armed forces and the police in Mindanao, under competent leadership, should be more than enough to neutralize the Maute marauders – said to be only 100-200 in number -- that pillaged Marawi the other day.

To justify his martial law proclamation, the Commander-in-Chief may have to prove actual Maute-ISIS connection (not mere “inspiration”) when he submits to the Congress not later than 10 p.m. today the proclamation that he issued 10 p.m. Tuesday (6 p.m. in Moscow same day).

The only indication of an ISIS element in the Marawi raid was the waving of black flags resembling those of the Islamic terrorist group that has vowed to establish a global caliphate annexing areas that it has overrun.

For Mr. Duterte to cite homegrown terrorism, staged by Maute or other brigands, as the factual basis for martial law may not be sufficient.

That may even amount to an admission of his failure as the Chief Executive to keep the peace and enforce the law in Mindanao’s 27 provinces and 33 cities.

Opinion ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1
Section 18, Article VII, of the Constitution says: “In case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it, he (the Commander-in-Chief) may, for a period not exceeding 60 days, suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law.”

There seems to be no invasion or rebellion in Mindanao, unless the President is able to document and magnify the ISIS element and present it as an invasion, or to demonstrate that the Maute attack where three persons were killed was part of an ongoing rebellion.

The 1987 Constitution, which reads in some parts like a reaction to Filipinos’ harsh experience under Ferdinand Marcos, has made it difficult for a budding dictator to impose martial rule again, as can be gleaned from Section 18, Article VII.

The Congress and the Supreme Court can still check a President’s proclaiming martial law, or suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus. His edict may be revoked by a majority vote of the two chambers of the Congress voting jointly. (And according to conscience, if we may add.)

Also, any citizen may ask the Supreme Court to review the sufficiency of the factual basis of the proclamation. The tribunal has 30 days to rule on the petition. Meanwhile, all courts on all levels continue to function even under martial law.

The suspension of the privilege of the writ applies only to persons judicially charged with rebellion or offenses inherent in or directly connected with the supposed invasion. Any person arrested or detained must be judicially charged within three days, otherwise he shall be released.

• Duterte planned martial law all along

IT APPEARS that the Maute pillage of Marawi gave President Duterte what he has been looking for – an opening and a justification to carry out his intention to declare martial law in Mindanao, if not in the entire country.

Explaining why all of Mindanao was included, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told media: “Because there are also problems in Zamboanga, Sulu, Tawi-tawi, also in Central Mindanao, the BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Forces) area, and also some problems in Region 11 (Southern Mindanao), yung pangongotong ng NPA (extortion by the New People’s Army).

Carolyn O. Arguillas of MindaNews, which has extensive coverage on the ground, recalled that President Duterte has repeatedly said that if he declares martial law in Mindanao, he would “finish” all the problems there.

In a meeting last March, Arguillas reported, the President told Mindanao governors and mayors: “Either tulungan ninyo ako or I will declare martial law tomorrow for Mindanao.” He exhorted them to use their powers to prevent violence “from spinning out of control.”

MindaNews has monitored social media postings of residents. Norhanidah Macatoon posted on Facebook what looked like CCTV footage of armed men with high-powered firearms wearing camouflage parading near Masjid Abubakar Markaz where the heavy clash took place. “Allahu Akbar! Brothers and Sisters, please stay in your houses,” she said.

An ISIS flag was hoisted at the Amai Pakpak Hospital near City Hall and the Army Brigade station. “It caused panic (among) civilians in the hospital but none of them was used as shields by the armed group. They only raised the black flag there,” said Abul Alibasa. “There is also violence near Haifah Palace of Calookan.”

Omai Atar, wife of Marawi’s sultan and a hospital employee, said: “All physicians and nurses on duty are safe and okay per our communication. Employees are in hiding. May mga sundalo na daw duon sa may gate. Sana manegotiate nila peacefully. Please spare the hapless patients.”

The movement of the armed group caused traffic congestion, said Drieza Lininding on Facebook. “The Marawi City jail is also under siege. Oh my Allah, spare my family and relatives from any harm.” Javier Alonto posted: “As conflict escalates, we also have power interruption.”

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