President Rodrigo Duterte, in a sweeping declaration Tuesday, said Marawi City was free from terrorists and that its rehabilitation could now begin.
The siege, which began May 23, took the lives of 847 terrorists, 163 government troopers and 47 civilians. It also displaced some 400,000 residents.
To be sure, the siege is not completely over. There remain pockets of fighting, 20-30 terrorist holdouts including foreigners, and about 20 hostages including women and children.
This is exactly why a senior military official said the declaration was more strategic than actual. “It’s about to be over,” said Col. Romeo Brawner, deputy commander of the Joint Task Group Ranao. “They [the terrorists] cannot be victorious anymore.”
Martial law continues to be in place in Mindanao. It will be in effect, unless lifted, until the end of the year.
Then again, it would be foolhardy for all of us to believe this is really over.
Foremost, Marawi City, which used to be the center of finance and education in the region, has been reduced to ruins. All of the gains made over the decades have been negated.
The people who managed to survive are living in cramped evacuation centers, merely living from one day to the next when before they cultivated rich and full lives in their community.
Business has ground to a halt, and it would take billions to breathe life back to the economy.
Terrorists have not been banished; in fact, several of them remain and one of them just might be made successor to the post vacated by the death of their leader. It is impossible that they could just be driven away so easily—these people are masters of cunning and organization. They are not known for cowering.
The liberation declaration is more of a message we are sending out to the world, Brawner said. How true. It is prospective—we want to be liberated from the terror threat and free from the crippling effects of destruction and fear.
Whether or not the strategy will become full reality is up to our leaders who must show they are not backing down or allowing themselves to get distracted.
There are indeed many wars on many fronts in governing this nation. If we play this one right, perhaps we can look forward to actually governing through building —not just putting out fires.