Long Read: Marawi

PODCAST: Hans Interviews: Marawi

Anybody who has bothered to research the story of terrorism in the Philippines will uncover nasty and particularly prolonged periods of violence. Marawi seems to be another one of those cases – a story the domestic militia hoped to finish off within a weekend while nursing an invalid President.

Instead, it has been a government disaster and a military nightmare. From Malacanang Palace’s view, it’s been a campaign riddled with contradictions. Originally, the military had hoped to fight this battle on their own. Not two weeks ago, Malacanang released a statement that the Marawi crisis “could have been worse”. The Presidential spokesman, Ernesto Abella provided the following to ABS-CBN News:

“The action on the ground actually preempted…the plans. Let’s give them credit…From our point of view, we were able to stop something which could have been much, much worse.”

That’s on top of direct foreign involvement which has further discredited President Duterte’s rule. Duterte, time after time, has criticised the US for their involvement in foreign affairs:

President Rodrigo Duterte threatened Saturday to terminate a pact that allows U.S. troops to visit the Philippines, saying “bye-bye America” as he reacted with rage to what he thought was a U.S. decision to scrap a major aid package over human rights concerns. (USA Today, December 2016)

Now while that above example is to do with aid, we’ve seen President Duterte at various times trying to create a more independent Philippines. So imagine the hypocrisy that global onlookers feel about him when he is forced to accept foreign involvement in dealing with Marawi – first from the US and now from Australia.

The war continues to be bloody in Marawi. The city, the most heavily Muslim-populated in the country, has seen little pause since the conflict began in late May. On Duterte’s part, it’ll be good moral news that there will be no need for expanded American involvement in the Marawi situation. However, martial law will stay.

Even more pertinent, it does not rule out the possibility of further regional attacks. It does not even rule out the confidence level that ISIL may now have in setting up a South East Asian base in Mindanao to target key places in the region – including Australia. That last point is what most irritates me. There was extended coverage from all the major networks on the situations in London – London Bridge, Manchester, Grenfell just to name a few. Even Brussels got coverage despite the attack plans being foiled.

Now don’t get me wrong – I think these stories are important to tell. In fact, in a world where terrorism has such global reach and repetitive danger, it is more important than ever to tell the stories and plights of our global friends. Critics of modern news handling may say that giving these events attention brings more attention and publicity to ISIL, Al Qaeda and various other terrorist groups from all religious denominations. Having said this, the world is far bigger than London. Marawi’s story proves that terrorism is close to home and it is happening in places that “our” world should be giving attention to. The argument that Europe is far more important because of audience relevance is absurd – because geographical relevance is equally important.

To prove a point, Marawi has had 1.3 million Google News search results while the story in Manchester alone has over 27 million News search results – and a whole social media trend involving bunny-embroidered ribbons. So much more attention needs to be given to a worldly news bulletin – and it all starts with giving attention to news that’s close to home that everyone can relate to.

Marawi is the perfect example to start with.

I leave you with a quote from an outstanding student. Recently, the University of the Philippines held its end of year graduation ceremonies across the country. Here’s how one graduate summed up the situation in Marawi:

[UP Summa Grad: Arman Ali] Ghodsinia called for a “truly inclusive education” that could build “social cohesion” among Filipinos across different ethnic groups, regions and religions.

“As Iskolar ng Bayan [scholars of the nation], we have a responsibility to have empathy for the oppressed,” he said. “I believe empathy is ingrained in the character of every Iskolar ng Bayan, much like the Oblation that symbolizes the sacrifice of one’s self for our fellow Filipinos.”

(As quoted in the Inquirer, June 2017)

Unsurprisingly, he and the other graduates called for martial law to be lifted in Mindanao. Of course, whether martial law is needed or whether they can afford winning the battle without it is another blog post all on its own.

I want to thank Dr Steven Rood for joining me in this, my first report for The Wire. It’s a difficult story to tell and I’m grateful to him for his expertise that he brought to the interview. I want to thank Emma and Cheyne at 2SER for their help in putting the story to air and most importantly, to you the audience. Because without you, in the words of the 2SER ethos, “we’d just be making podcasts for our cats”. This was my one year anniversary story for them – and some 30+ stories later, I still get a kick out of producing radio.

#4Visuals will run over the summer while I am on vacation. Let’s regroup after the first week of August.


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