The time to stop ISIS in the Philippines is now » Manila Bulletin News

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By Getsy Tiglao

Getsy Tiglao

There was this absurd argument that the Maute gang should not be given an inordinate amount of attention because it’s just a small group of terrorists that isn’t even officially recognized by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Since when has terrorism been measured in size or recognition? Just the sight of that black ISIS flag being raised in Marawi City is enough to send chills up the spine, official or not official.

It would have been the height of irresponsibility if the Philippine government had failed to act on the growing lawless violence in Marawi initiated by the Maute. President Rodrigo Duterte’s proclamation of Martial Law for the whole of Mindanao was not only a decisive move, it was also an act of faith: this is a leader who trusts that his troops will deliver in 60 days. It was certainly ballsy, another astonishing move from the most unorthodox president the Philippines has ever had.

Duterte and his quick decision-making is the antithesis of Barack Obama and his slow, overthinking style. While Duterte had no qualms bombing the local ISIS-wannabees, the former US president hemmed and hawed about a small group of terrorists linked to Al-Qaeda, who in January 2014 had taken over the city of Fallujah in Iraq. He dismissed them as the “jayvee team,” which in American parlance means the “junior varsity” or the second-rate sports team.

Told about the Fallujah capture, Obama told the New Yorker: “The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms, that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant.” The name of Obama’s jayvee team, the Al-Qaeda lite he mocked? The Islamic State or ISIS.

Shortly after Obama’s put down, the jihadist ISIS would capture vast swaths of land in Syria and Iraq, a big step in its end-goal of establishing an Islamic Caliphate. It would become notorious for beheading its captives and recording the barbarous act in slick video productions that are released worldwide. If you haven’t seen one, don’t, for the horror will be forever stuck in your mind. But if you do watch, you will most assuredly come away with the realization that ISIS with its cruel inhumanity and its apocalyptic intent to convert everyone in the world into its brand of Islamic extremism, is the biggest threat to human civilization.

In Marawi City, the Maute showed that it can be as brutal as ISIS. It executed eight city residents and dumped their bodies into the ravine, their hands tied behind their backs and with a sign saying “Munafik”(meaning hypocrite). Eyewitnesses said the terrorists took away those who could not recite the Islamic prayers. They beheaded hostages, killed military men and police, burned government facilities, destroyed hospitals and schools, and in general acted like lunatics out to destroy the city. With such violent and terroristic acts, why shouldn’t the government defend the city and its people?

It really speaks of our nation’s disunity when in the face of an attack on Philippine sovereignty, some quarters prefer to side with the terrorists in the name of “human rights” or even the much-abused word, “peace.” Fortunately, the majority is supporting President Duterte and the military, especially Filipinos residing in Mindanao whose voices are finally being heard through social media. They are the ones at the frontline of this crisis and not the noisy, fault-finding brigade based in Metro Manila.

Maute is not some innocent “bandit group” or “armed militia” as some anti-Duterte critics wish to portray them. They’re a very well-trained, well-financed and organized militant group that has been able to hold its own against the Philippine military for a week now. They have high-powered arms, including rocket-proppeled grenades that can destroy tanks and armored vehicles.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that Maute has received a couple of million dollars in funding from the Islamic State. More tellingly: several foreigners were confirmed to be part of the fighting force of Maute, including several Malaysians, some Singaporeans, and Indonesians. This shows the extensive global network of ISIS that the Maute is taking advantage of, especially now that ISIS is moving its staging area to Southeast Asia amid the setbacks on its operations in Iraq and Syria.

Military officials have declared that they now are in full control of Marawi and that they expect to complete clearing operations soon. Clearly then, it was a good decision to nip in the bud the Maute threat instead of vacillating, as was the style of the previous administration. If the military had not moved in time, the Maute would likely have gathered more recruits, obtained more foreign funding, and expanded its reach to other areas in Mindanao.

This has been affirmed by the findings of the military that the Maute’s intention was to burn down the entire city of Marawi. The odious plan was uncovered by the state forces that had raided the safe house of Isnilon Totoni Hapilon, who has reportedly been designated as the ‘emir’ of the ISIS branch in the Philippines.

 “What others termed to be a ‘botched raid’ turned out to be an abortive raid that prevented what could have been carnage of an Islamic City in two weeks yet,” said AFP public affairs chief Col. Edgard Arevalo. This was fortuitous indeed. But the real key was the refusal of government to consider Maute as a ‘simple group’ engaged in local power struggles, but rather as the local guns of a diabolical organization that wants to sow terror worldwide.

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