Thursday, June 8, 2017

Marawi battle will worsen in the coming weeks

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has set a deadline for the cessation of hostilities between them and the Maute-AKP-ASG group. The military estimates that it would only take them two weeks to finish the job. However, a news item today in the Inquirer points to the possibility of a protracted war which could severely affect the Philippines in so many ways.

A long-drawn insurgent war will definitely affect the Philippines in so many ways. First, war devastates the public coffers. How much do we spend every single day just to neutralise 200 or so armed men in Marawi? With so many other problems besetting our country for the past years, war will surely make things worse. President Duterte remains mum. He is always complaining about the deaths and probably fails to express concerns about the rising weight this war is making upon public funds. We don't know how Mr. Duterte now spends his intelligence funds which run to the billions. We are also clueless as to the costs of human suffering brought by this senseless war.

Frankly, Mr. Duterte spent so much political capital when he declared martial law in Mindanao. Inspite of a survey showing 78% of Filipinos are against martial rule, Mr. Duterte went ahead, thinking that this is a sufficient response to the imminent threat posed by these extremist local terror group. Like any other militarist, Mr. Duterte believes that government should strike first before these extremists make good its threat of occupying an inch off Marawi.

Two weeks past, and we still are waiting for the intended effect of martial rule in the Marawi conflict, which is the arrest of major players in this on-going war. Martial rule is supposed to lead to the arrest of known narco-politicians which the President accused of staging and financing this war. Two weeks went by and no one, not even a shadow of at least one major personality involved in this dangerous caper is behind bars. Or, six feet under ground. Inspite of Mr. Duterte's bravado, urging soldiers to kill, and maim, and destroy lives, the conflict has not changed for the better. The terrorists are readying for an expected major battle for the commercial district of Marawi and even if these terrorists fail in defending their positions against government attacks, the shift from conventional urban warfare to unconventional jungle fighting will ultimately decide which one between these two combatant groups will win in the end. And if one looks at history, more government soldiers die in jungle warfare than these terrorists who are admittedly more knowledgeable about the terrain compared to the battle-scarred government soldiers.

As history has shown us, a protracted war is not at all beneficial for the national government. Aside from its heavy toll on public coffers, a long-drawn war also weakens the state politically and socially. Honestly, this country is simply not prepared for another war, especially one that assumes an international or regional character. In the end, something has to give, and based on history, when the state and interests of Big Business are affected, the state always extricate itself from its rut by political transition.

What is so dangerous now of the situation is the possibility of raising the Mindanao conflict to a higher, and more, international level. With the national government itself making a big fuss about ISIS and giving more prominence to a handful of armed civilians rather than electing to just quietly resolve this thru special force operations, the group got the necessary attention it craves for legitimisation. Right now, the ISIS is exploiting what is happening in the Philippines for its propaganda. Even that incident at Resorts World Manila was claimed by ISIS as the handiwork of its "lone wolf", which Speaker Alvarez accepted hook, line and sinker.

Martial law proved to be a useless and pointless weapon against this spreading extremism.