After 5 months of blood, sweat and tears, Marawi City is finally free. Marawi’s sons and daughters can now sleep in peace, finally delivered from the terrifying bomb blasts and sniper fire. The skies are blue once again, as though signaling the return of peace and tranquility in the area. The sound of chirping birds have returned. They are back where there used to be just the billowing smoke from crumbling buildings, and the constant stacatto of deadly machine-gun and mortar fire.
Marawi has suffered much from the war. The death and destruction is still evident in many of the streets of Marawi’s central business district. Truly, it was distressing to witness the ravages of war as the government’s elite assault forces stormed in to flush out the dreaded ISIS elements from the city.
And the job isn’t over yet. We must look ahead at the gargantuan task of rebuilding this once-bustling city.
Looking back, there are hidden gems of goodwill that must be surfaced from the rubble of hatred and devastation. For in the midst of all the misery were many poignant episodes of heroism and humanity that the Marawi incident gifted us with.
When the war erupted, many people were caught by surprise. Muslims and Christians alike did not know who to trust, what to do, where to go. In many cases, when the ISIS force suddenly surfaced, Muslims hid Christians in their homes so that they would not be taken hostage by the ISIS fighters. Such acts of kindness and bravery were repeated countless times, saving many Christians left isolated in the predominantly Muslim community.
A group of young Muslims braved the danger of the ISIS threat, walking the seemingly-abandoned streets, exposing themselves unnecessarily, looking for civilians left behind. Armed only with megaphones to call out stragglers inside the deserted homes, this group of steel-hearted men fancied themselves as a ‘suicide squad’. Nonetheless, they were able to bring out many innocent civilians, reuniting them with families worried sick over their welfare.
Soldiers took great risks and made personal sacrifices to rescue and save Muslim and Christian hostages alike. Some were injured, some have taken the ultimate sacrifice, losing their lives in the process. A Scout Ranger commander would sacrifice his own life for his wounded sergeant who was wounded and pinned down in close-quarter battle. Another Scout Ranger lieutenant braved an ongoing firefight, to negotiate a ceasefire that would eventually lead to the release of some hostages. He laid down his rifle, called his people to stand down, removed his helmet and body armor, exposed himself, if only to show sincerity to the hostile militants.
The assaulting troops made sure that cultural sensitivities were observed. Strict instructions were given to the troops to make sure that this was followed. Bodies of dead fighters were treated with respect. The Air Force were under strict instructions not to bomb the mosques, even if they knew that the mosques were being used to manufacture more bombs, and house observers and snipers. Only small arms fire was used to deter fighters firing from these religious establishments. Even before the firing stopped, plans were being readied to repair damages in these mosques.
In the dawn encounter that brought down top leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute, the soldiers elected not to shoot while the terrorists were moving with the hostages. Both were taken out with clean shots, as the soldiers made sure that no hostages would be imperiled.
While the fighting raged, soldiers and other government agencies raced to provide comfort to both the Muslim and Christian refugees. The conditions in the evacuation centers were certainly not the best, but they strove to make it better, particularly for the impressionable kids who had been traumatized by the war. As the PNP SAF troopers prepared to leave for Luzon after the campaign, scores of children crowded the buses crying, acknowledging the strong bond the troopers had developed with the kids.
And as the fighting ended, our military forces were withdrawn as quietly as possible from the frontlines. There was no gloating over an enemy’s downfall, no loud victorious display in Marawi. Just respect for the fallen – be they comrade or adversary, care for the wounded, sympathy and support for the evacuees. The government immediately led talks on rebuilding the city, on strengthening the ties between the Muslim and Christian communities, on reconciliation and the need for more collaboration.
The fight in Marawi was contained solely by Philippine soldiers. ISIS tried desperately to make it an international war. They poured in fighters and support from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and other countries in the Middle East. They called for more support from all over the world. But the fact that they were quelled decisively in a short span of time, and by a purely local force, has made them lose face and will dampen their recruitment efforts at the global level. It is something that we, as a nation, can be proud of.
Marawi has gone through a lot of pain. Her pain is the country’s pain as well. And as the fighting has subsided, it is time to rehabilitate and rebuild. There are valuable lessons to be learned from the Marawi siege. From the root causes of the siege, the need to improve the conditions prevailing in our Muslim communities, the need for more attention for our Southern frontiers, the need for more government presence, the need for more goodwill and collaboration, etc. On the other hand, we also learned much about our government agencies’ capabilities in major disaster events such as this. And we learned about the needs of our Armed Forces as well. We must not let the Marawi incident pass without learning from it. We must not allow the Marawi siege to happen elsewhere. Never again.
Today, Marawi may look battered and punch-drunk. But she will survive. She will recover, she will be better from the experience. From the ruins of the old Marawi shall rise a better, stronger, more resilient Marawi. With God’s will, with the sympathy and goodwill coming from across the globe, and with the lessons in humanity etched in blood and tears, Marawi shall rise again.
May God bless the people who have worked together – and continue to work together – to help rebuild Marawi. May God bless the Philippines. Let us all join hands in this noble endeavor to rebuild this paradise. Inshallah.