One year after deadly siege, Philippine forces remain on red alert in Marawi

One year after deadly siege, Philippine forces remain on red alert in Marawi

Marawi Security story pic 5
(Photo: Aya Lowe)

MANILA: They call them the “Hijab Troopers”.

In the aftermath of the Marawi siege of a year ago, 105 female soldiers from the Philippine armed forces were deployed to evacuation camps around the destroyed city to provide psychosocial services for the thousands of children affected by the fighting.

Orphans and refugees displaced by the conflict continue to be targets for militants looking to recruit new members for their cause. 

The female soldiers hope they can reverse this trend by singing songs of peace and giving the children comfort and cuddles. 

Marawi Security - main pic
(Photo: Aya Lowe)

Marawi Security story pic 1
(Photo: Aya Lowe)

The Marawi siege began on May 23, 2017 when Islamic State loyalists, the Maute group, took over large parts of Marawi City. 

“Before, when we gave them paper to draw, their drawings were of ISIS (Islamic State)- and they used to say ‘we want to be an ISIS’," said Angel Manglapus, who is one of the so-called Hijab Troopers.

“But now, when we ask them to draw, the drawings are more of schools and of how they want to be soldiers.”

According to government estimates, most of the Maute militants who launched the five-month siege were killed in the fighting.

Marawi Security story pic 2
(Photo: Aya Lowe)

However, remnants of the Maute and other radical groups are re-grouping in Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte, the rural areas outside Marawi City as well as elsewhere in Mindanao.

What they lack in manpower, they have in resources.

The military believe that they are using cash and gold worth tens of millions of dollars, looted during the fighting, to recruit hundreds of fighters for fresh attacks.

Their main threat now is Abu Dar, a militant who survived the Marawi siege to reportedly succeed Isnilon Hapilon as leader of the Islamic State in the Philippines.

Marawi security story pic 3
(Photo: Aya Lowe)

And while the immediate terrorist threat has diminished, slow movement on the political front to kick-start the rehabilitation process gives these groups more time and space to grow.

The military continues to carry out operations, and this time the local communities are helping.

“Residents themselves are now cooperating with us,” said Colonel Romeo Brawner Jr, deputy commander, Joint Task Force Ranao, Philippine army.

“Before the siege, we hardly got any information from the residents. But because of what they saw and what can happen to their city they’re now cooperating with us.

“In fact earlier this year in January, we had three encounters with Maute and in each of these cases the information came from the residents.”

The Philippine military is also encouraging militants to surrender - which recently resulted in 15 people surrendering.

Marawi Security Story Pic 4
(Photo: Aya Lowe)

“We have launched a campaign to convince the remnants of the Maute to come back to the fold of the law and we've told them that they will be treated fairly and justly,” said Col Brawner.

“Some of them have already conceded to that call, so we are now processing them, trying to find out some more information so we can also go after the others.

"We hope more of them will come out and surrender very soon.”

Meanwhile, martial law continues to be in place across Mindanao giving the military a freer hand to stop and arrest suspects.

“We have also recovered already more than 1600 loose firearms not only in Marawi but in Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte," said Colonel Brawner. 

"So right now we can be sure that the security situation across Lanao del Sur province is under control because of martial law."

Marawi Security story pic 6
(Photo: Aya Lowe)

But one lingering threat is the stalled Bangsamoro Basic Law.

The bill seeks to create an independent region in Mindanao, and grant local Muslim leaders there more autonomy in decision-making.

It is hoped this will end the long-running conflict between Muslim groups and the national government, and put an end to conditions that allow extremism to thrive.

President Rodrigo Duterte has appealed to Congress to pass the bill this year.

But until then, the security situation in Mindanao continues to remain fragile and while the battle of Marawi was won, the war is far from over.

Source: CNA/rw