By Getsy Tiglao
The killing of Marawi terrorists Omar Maute and Isnilon Hapilon on Monday was a huge victory for the country’s armed forces, which have been battling the Islamic State jihadists since May 23 in a tough urban warfare never before seen in our history.
With the city’s hilly terrain and the jidahists’ well-placed snipers and improvised explosive devices, the Philippine military was initially at a disadvantage. But our armed forces showed everyone that they’re among the world’s best soldiers as they took out the terrorists who plotted to shut down Marawi and turn it into an Islamic caliphate.
It came at a steep cost though – the military lost 162 of their troops as they fought with the heavily-armed Maute terrorists. If not for the bravery and sacrifice of our men in uniform, Marawi City by now would be an ISIS-controlled city, beheadings would be the norm, and other areas in Mindanao would also be in danger.
On the other side of the world, to compare what happened in Marawi, Raqqa in Syria is still controlled by ISIS despite the total support of the U.S. military to the militias fighting them. Raqqa was the first big Syrian city that the Islamic State captured way back in 2014 and it is only now – three years later – that the U.S.-led coalition is saying that only “200 or 300” militants are left fighting.
The Philippine military has not announced a cessation of hostilities in Marawi as they expect the remnants of the group, estimated at about 30, to retaliate for the death of their leaders Maute and Hapilon. “We are ready for them,” said Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. AFP Chief of Staff General Eduardo Año noted: “They are stragglers. They don’t have leaders anymore, they’re on their own.”
Another leader of the murderous gang, Abdullah Maute, was reportedly killed in military air strikes last August. A total of 824 terrorists have been killed by the military since fighting began five months ago, and it was the snipers of the elite Philippine Army Scout Rangers who took out Hapilon with a pinpoint shot to the chest and Maute to his head.
The military’s considerable feat was a triumph as well for President Rodrigo Duterte who demonstrated that he has the grit and strength of a true military leader. He cut short a historic trip to Russia when he learned of the Marawi hostilities, and immediately declared martial law in Mindanao.
More than any other president in modern history, Duterte has shown a strong trust and confidence in the abilities of the armed forces. He sees them as crucial partners in his difficult task of ending the protracted wars being waged by both communist and Moro rebels all over the country, but especially in his home region of Mindanao.
The occupation of Marawi City by Islamic State jihadists was a direct threat to the sovereignty of the country. Lawless violence was happening, with the murder and kidnapping of civilians, the destruction of property, and burning of the city. Despite the noisy critics, majority of Filipinos supported Duterte’s decision to declare martial law in Mindanao.
Duterte gave his full support to the military as they faced off with the terrorists whose ammunition never seemed to run out. It soon became clear that this was a well-organized attempt to seize Marawi City – the stockpiling of weapons such as grenade launchers must have taken years, not to mention the digging of escape tunnels underneath the houses.
Critics said there was failure of intelligence on the part of the military, but Duterte was quick to counter this by contextualizing events, and showing how the “very soft policy” of the previous administration towards the rebels allowed the easy entry of arms. Add to this the connivance of local warlords who are related by blood to the Islamic jihadists.
Duterte’s outstanding quality as a military leader is his great empathy for the troops. He makes regular visits to military camps from north to south of the country, showing a keen awareness of the needs of ordinary soldiers – some as basic as a pair of boots or a proper rifle, or a few inspiring words from their leader.
The President also sees the men at the hospitals as they undergo treatment for their injuries, talking and joking with them, and pinning the medals on them even as they lay in bed with their bodies smashed up.
More importantly, he shows up at the wake of the men who have died in the line of duty. His sense of loss is palpable, and almost personal. We have seen him cry over a dead soldier’s body. This is the most human commander-in-chief we will ever see in our lifetime.
It is hard not to compare Duterte with former president Benigno Aquino III whose disdain for the military and police establishment led him to authorize a secret mission in Mamasapano for his suspended police chief. The massacre of the 44 trapped SAF commandos, after his decision not to order their extraction, and his detached response to their slaughter, will forever define the weak Aquino presidency.
The battle zone of Marawi was visited by President Duterte a total of six times, the last time being October 2. Visits like these were important morale-boosters for the military, especially during the early period when the military encountered difficulties in flushing out the terrorists. A seventh visit is being planned and hopefully it will be to declare indisputable victory in Marawi City.
Tags: Abdullah Maute, Getsy Tiglao, Islamic Caliphate, Islamic State, Isnilon Hapilon, Marawi, Martial law in Mindanao, Mindanao, Omar Maute, Philippine Army Scout Rangers, Philippine Military, President Duterte