When carpenters are summarily executed because they’re unable to recite verses from the Quran, the Muslim Holy Book; when a placard with the word “munafik” (hypocrite) is tied to one of their bodies; when Christian churches are burned down and worshippers taken hostage and threatened with Islamist-style execution; when civilians are shot like dogs in the street and their bodies tipped into a ravine – when these are the snapshots emerging from a city besieged by Islamist groups, no one should be in any doubt about what’s confronting the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Marawi City in Mindanao right now.
This isn’t some small skirmish across a tract of jungle. This is a large coordinated assault on a major southern city. And the ramifications from this are far reaching. What’s happening in Marawi in Lanao del Sur is every bit as lethal as what took over whole swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014 and 2015. Like it or not – in spirit if not fully in name just yet – this is the advent of Islamic State in Southeast Asia. That’s the plan so let’s stop denying it.
And so when opposition legislators come to deliberate on the martial-law measures put in place in Mindanao by President Rodrigo Duterte, they might like to bear in mind that they have a far greater responsibility than partisan politicking. They have a responsibility now to this entire region, because any hesitation in handling the problems in the southern Philippines will impact gravely on the neighbouring states of Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore and eventually southern Thailand.
In short, Manila has to take the lead within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in driving Islamic militarism out of this region. This is not the time, then, for crass statements from members of the Philippine Congress seeking to make political mileage out of what’s building up to be a massive humanitarian tragedy as tens of thousands of residents are forced to flee their homes.
Even when AFP forces put down the Marawi siege – and they will; and soon – the threat remains. For one thing, no one has any hard numbers for how many foreign fighters there are in the Philippines right now – is it tens, scores, hundreds or over a thousand? We know they’ve come and gone to training camps in Mindanao from Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and parts of the Middle East – Afghanistan and Iraq – for years; and with little inconvenience. We also don’t actually have a fix on how many Filipinos are fighting with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the inspiration for the new wave of terror in the southern Philippines, or how many of these will return home at some stage. We do know they’re there – they were called in 2015 by a Filipino jihadist who’d assisted in the execution of 16 Syrian pilots and a former US Army Ranger.
And yet, despite that gravity, already the anti-Duterte voices are being raised. A group of the usual suspects – senators Antonio Trillanes IV, Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, Franklin Drilon, Risa Hontiveros, Bam Aquino IV, and of course the ever-agitating Leila de Lima (photo), despite her custodial detention on charges of drug profiteering – are calling for a joint session of Congress to determine the “constitutional and factual validity of the (martial-law) proclamation”.
Of course what this ‘less-than-magnificent six’ actually has in mind is to use Duterte’s proclamation as a weapon against him and once more to parade the president before the world as a dictator and the reincarnation of the late president Ferdinand Marcos who imposed martial law across the Philippines from 1973 to 1981. They will assert that Duterte’s intention is not to quell the rebel forces in the south but to use that situation to establish a military junta in Manila.
For this group, shaming Duterte has become an obsession; particularly since February when four of them – Pangilinan, Drilon, Hontiveros and Aquino – were stripped of their Senate committee chairmanships for constantly stalling the Senate’s legislative agenda; political spoiling tactics in which Trillanes and De Lima has also constantly engaged.
From her “cell” in Camp Crame De Lima writes: “We have no doubt that our uniformed services have the capability, experience and the will to put an end to this crisis in Marawi in a strong and decisive manner, without resort to martial law”.
We doubt that De Lima is privy to regular military-intelligence briefings while she’s awaiting trial – we certainly hope she’s not – and has precious little understanding of the true nature of the current conflict and its wide reaching implications for the Philippines and the rest of the region.
Her nebulous assertions that “our uniformed services have the capability, experience and the will to put an end to this crisis in Marawi in a strong and decisive manner, without resort to martial law,” is playing fast and loose with something she really doesn’t understand.
What does she think the Islamist groups – the Maute, Abu Sayyaf, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, Ansar al-Khilafah in the Philippines; and for that matter the likes of the Luzon-based Rajah Solaiman Movement – are made up of? Boy scouts? These are not rabbles; these are hardened fighters and the fact that they’re still around after years of being battled by the AFP should be indication enough that they’re a formidable enemy. But now they’re being honed into a consolidated force.
Otso Iho, a senior analyst with Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center – and for us a far more reliable source of analysis than De Lima could ever be on this subject – the Islamist groups are banding together to build a unified Islamist front “particularly in the southern Philippines”.
In other words, this is no longer a local matter. This is phase one of an expansion programme that – if left unchecked – will see a wilayat (province or governorate) declared in Mindanao by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS. This will be followed by the systematic development of a Southeast Asian caliphate – an Islamic State of Southeast Asia. And both logistically and militarily that project has to start in Mindanao. Which, for De Lima’s benefit, we can tell her it already has.
Contrary to what the global Liberal Left would have us believe – that this is just a grab for land and treasure – this is a ‘pure’ war being waged to cleanse the Earth of idolatry and the pornographic behaviour of the West and those that seek to emulate it. For ISIS and those that have come into its fold, this is a war for the glory of Allah.
Thankfully the governments of neighbouring countries (Indonesia and Malaysia in particular) – unlike De Lima, Trillanes and the rest of the anti-Duterte mob – are aware of the significance of the ISIS push to galvanise smaller jihadist groups across their territories and are working on a tri-national solution for defeating them.
But right now, Mindanao is the epicentre of ISIS development in the region and if this big predominantly Muslim island falls into the terror group’s hands – providing an ISIS launching pad for the lands to the west – it will consign these states to years, if not decades, of bloody conflict; extreme hardship for their people; economic paralysis and a Dark Age for generations of youth.
That is what this martial-law measure is about preventing. It is not – as the proponents of a self-seeking Liberal agenda would like to suggest – about the curtailment of civil liberties to erect a totalitarian state; though the totalitarian state will certainly be ushered in by ISIS if these measures fail.
Then the landscape will look very different. There will be no Catholic Masses; the priests will have been killed – like the one whose head they severed in France in July last year. There will be no pilgrimages to shrines and Christian religious places – these will be prime targets like the 28 Coptic Christians, slaughtered a few days ago by an ISIS-linked group as they travelled to pray at the monastery of St Samuel the Confessor in Egypt.
There will be no concerts where young people can express the exuberance of youth and enjoy freedoms they’ve taken for granted for so long – the events at the Bataclan Concert Hall in Paris in November 2015 and the Manchester Arena in the northwest of England last week, are evidence of that. The LGBTQI (and whatever else) will meet with brutal death – as they have wherever ISIS puts down its boots; thrown from buildings to crowds ready to stone any remaining life out of them. And in the human-cattle markets, young women and girls will be traded as slaves.
Meanwhile, the crucifixes will be melted down, the Christian books will be burned along with the churches, and the “infidel” – those of any or no faith who don’t buckle under, especially Muslims who refute the Salifist doctrine to which ISIS subscribes – will be put to the sword. This is not about confiscating land and territory; this is about the confiscating of souls and the dispatching of life. This is about the Islamisation of an entire people.
All this has been coming for a long time; approaching in full view like a slow-motion train wreck. And though denial seemed to offer comfort to those further removed from the conflict zone in the deep south of the Philippines – the politicians and the businessmen and women in Manila and across Luzon; their counterparts in Cebu and across the Visayas – what’s now clear for anyone who’s prepared to see it, is that Marawi City could happen virtually anywhere across the archipelago. Maybe not right now, but in a not-too-far-distant future.
That’s why Duterte has put in place martial law. That’s what De Lima and Trillanes & Co. need to start getting their heads around. This is far too dangerous a situation to be playing political games with. For if they hamper in any way efforts to quash this ISIS-inspired rebellion, they will end up with more blood on their hands than anyone. They will have been complicit – albeit unwittingly – with the ISIS cause.
There’s no question that any opposition they put forward will be partisan-political. Why, for example did De Lima when she was secretary at the Department of Justice under the previous administration, not publicly voice her concerns that her boss, then-president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, was contemplating placing the whole of the Sulu region of Mindanao under martial law? Why didn’t Aquino’s cousin and staunch supporter, Bam Aquino, do that either?
And how do we square the circle that Trillanes has twice taken up arms to overthrow a legitimately elected government in the Philippines, but somehow feels queasy about providing the country’s military with emergency powers to put down a building insurrection that threatens democracy and the way of life of the Filipino people?
The only answer to these questions is that they’re prepared to use a critical situation that could ultimately threaten the entire Philippines for political gain; that they’re prepared to gamble with national and regional security and make those peripheral concerns while they go after Duterte.
And that calls into issue their fitness to sit in the Philippine Senate and represent the Filipino people. The question is just how bad does the situation in Mindanao have to get before these senators start taking this seriously? Does it have to spill over into the Visayas or migrate to Luzon – the other two main island regions of the archipelago? Do we have to see truck bombs in Cebu; concerts and religious festivals turned into bloodbaths in Manila? What will it take before Duterte’s political opponents set aside their party affiliations and halt their machinations and start putting the people and the country first?
What gave the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria oxygen and room to grow was a reluctance to accept that it presented any real threat – in the US under the administration of Barack Obama it was hideously underestimated; dismissed as a small player – a “JV (junior varsity) team” in his words. And even when it grew to be a formidable force in the Middle-East region there was a reluctance to confront and defeat it; the word Obama used repeatedly was “contain”.
The radicalising of Muslim insurgent groups in Mindanao has been going on for well over a decade. In that time their cause has gone from being Islamic to being Islamist. And again, that’s thanks to the oxygen and the space which past administrations have given to them. Former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo constantly referred to the Abu Sayyaf terror groups as “bandits”; Aquino, viewed them much the same way.
What Duterte then is hoping to achieve is to prevent history from repeating itself. And the rest of the Southeast Asian region is hoping that too.