Dismal Day: Marawi Siege

As a city girl since my birth, I am fortunate enough to be spared from what people may categorize as “lack of civilization.” These may range from rather superficial concerns such as slow internet connection, and scarcity of malls and bars, to more serious concerns such as unpaved roads, the inadequacy of schools and infrastructures, and even the onslaught of wars.

At this time of 21st Century, that is characterized with the Information Technology Revolution, and that is bequeathed with considerable degrees of achievement (may it be in academic, scientific, diplomatic or artistic aspect) from previous generations, people might expect freer and more peaceful places. Anyway, almost all countries already have their own government to maintain local affairs, and even at the international scope, the variegated nations are already mediated by international institutions like the United Nations to foster diplomatic relations. Our notions of universal concepts such as truth, justice, and freedom have supposed to progress as well. Hence, one may ask if there could still be a room for wars in this time of a more “civilized world.”

As the Philippines is currently embattled with an internal war in one of its southern provinces (specifically in Marawi City, although fears supply that it may spread to neighboring provinces), the question is easily answered. Yes, recent daily headlines in the country glaringly impute that this so-called modern society can still accommodate ravaging wars.

In a report Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte submitted to the Philippine Congress upon his declaration of Martial Law, it is said that the radical Islamist Maute group has shown their “clear intention to establish an Islamic state.” The group has attracted foreign fighters, and some reports established that they were able to manage links with the ISIS group.

Government troops in Marawi. Photo by Romeo Ranoco, Reuters.

The ongoing Marawi siege unravels a string of complex and long-standing historical, political, and religious issues. As written by Joseph Hincks in TIME, “the battle for Marawi has its roots in the complex and bloody history of Mindanao, where four decades of armed struggle have claimed more than 150,000 lives.” He also added that “The suffering of the Moro dates back to Spanish and American colonialism… and continued through the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, whose soldiers massacred thousands under martial law.”

Groups such as the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have rallied for a greater autonomy in Mindanao, and as time went by, new groups were formed like the Maute group, which comes out to be more radical and to hold a more extremist stance. A former MNLF commander, Omar Ali or more popularly known as Solitario, who had discussions with the Maute group, described the purpose of the group as something more “ideological” – they want a “cleansing process” against non-Muslims intervening in their affairs. The Maute group told Solitario, “We have to do a cleansing process. We do not want Muslims to be neutral. They either have to join us or be our opponent: you are with us or you are against us.”

It is truly heart-wrenching to witness yet another war in my country, particularly a war that does not seem to promise a full closure in the near future. In any case of war, there are no victors. There can only be losers. The lifeless bodies both from the extremist group and the government camp point to the families they have left behind, to the destroyed and unrecognizable city and to the country at large that is obviously lacking in unity. From both sides, there are lamentable losses. But perhaps the greater damage is inflicted upon the ordinary citizens, the civilians who just want a peaceful and enjoyable life but are caught in between wars.

Residents of Marawi flee the city to find safer havens. Photo by Edwin Mascarinas, INTERAKSYON

The protracted battles have indeed introduced wounds and scars to the nation. Discussions about these may truly be lengthy as they unpack decades, if not centuries, of issues. However, at the end of the day, any war reveals the kind of men’s notion of themselves and of their neighbors. It is very tricky and thorny to talk of wars and of their consequent solutions. But perhaps on a safe note, it is valid to say that in the evaluation of the situation, the stakeholders involved have to re-discover who they are – the reality of being men and women who are free and rational but not self-sufficient, and therefore they are relational.

One’s fullness of being can only be realized by connecting it to others’ lives as well. No man is an island, as a classic adage tells us. Each one needs the help of his/her neighbors in order to live a quality life in this world. Instead of wars, I think what men and women have to busy themselves with is to build societies conducive to harmonious relationships even for manifold religious and ethnic groups.

Written by Pia Lorenzo, a current intern at the WYA Asia Pacific office.

WYAAP is now accepting applicants for its Batch 3 internship batch from September to December this year! Check www.wya.net/apinternships for more information.