What needs to be unearthed, now that the four-month-long war in Marawi City is winding down, is the involvement of foreign groups not only in enabling local terrorist organizations like the Maute with money, arms and inspiration, but also in the actual bloody, drawn-out fighting that took place. The reports that a Malaysian doctor is now the de facto head of the small terrorist band still holding out in the city demand that the participation of foreigners in the conflict be thoroughly investigated.
By now, everyone should understand that Isnilon Hapilon, who gained infamy as a sub-leader of the Abu Sayyaf bandit group based in Basilan, far removed from Marawi, could not have led the latest Moro uprising without foreign help. The fact that Hapilon seamlessly hooked up with the Butig, Lanao del Sur-based Maute gang, becoming the anointed, would-be emir of the first Southeast Asian caliphate of Daesh, also known as the Islamic State, is not accidental.
And yes, the conflict in Marawi was not only the result of funding, arming and indoctrination from IS. The actual battle with Philippine security forces involved foreigners who were as radicalized as Hapilon and the Maute brothers, fighters who also bought into IS’ promise that a new world order of radical and brutal Muslim extremism was at hand.
For anyone interested in delving into the causes of the Marawi war, there is evidence aplenty of foreign intervention. Just yesterday, the National Bureau of Investigation announced the arrest of a 36-year-old widow whose job was to recruit foreign nationals to reinforce the band assembled by Hapilon and the Mautes.
Karen Aizha Hamidon, whose husband was reportedly the leader of a small extremist group in Mindanao, was arrested at her home in Taguig City a week ago and charged with 14 counts of inciting to rebellion and committing cybercrime. Hamidon reportedly used social media and messaging apps to call on foreigners to join the siege of Marawi.
Of course, it is also no secret that allies of the Philippines helped a lot in putting down the IS-inspired Marawi rebellion, providing materiel, intelligence and other requirements of a military that is admittedly poorly equipped to deal with a full-blown and determined terrorist threat. But that doesn’t mean that we cannot ask an explanation, at the very least, from other countries (whom we also count as allies) whose nationals participated in the longest and bloodiest terror attack this country has ever seen.
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I have a friend in the old neighborhood who retired recently from his mid-level job as an accountant in a big local bank. He now drives one of the two jeepneys that he owns every day.
My neighbor doesn’t need the money because the bank where he worked his entire life paid him well. He owns a nice house and his retirement pay, pension and income from some rental properties he invested in make more than enough for him and his wife and perhaps even for his grown children and their families.
But he drives a jeepney because his father drove and owned jeepneys, which sent my neighbor and his siblings through school. He doesn’t want to stop driving a jeepney which plies the same route that his father’s jeepneys did; jeepneys, those unsafe, rickety, smoke-belching contraptions that somehow, by some miracle of McGyver-inspired engineering, get millions of Filipinos daily from Point A to Point B, are my neighbor’s life.
Of course, my neighbor’s story is by no means the rule for the people who own and drive jeepneys, those jerry-rigged mini-buses that first made an appearance in the Philippines right after World War II. I would like to believe, as this week’s strikers would want us to believe, that many jeepney drivers are actually poor.
But the story highlights how, for many decades, the people who have made a living out of ferrying people on government-granted routes have resisted any sort of change. Just like they are now resisting the government’s planned modernization of their decrepit vehicles, in order to make them safer, more reliable and more environmentally friendly—a modernization plan, by the way, that was first broached by the government in the Marcos years.
The same fear of the unknown, stoked by rabble-rousing leftist groups, is what made the jeepney drivers’ groups call a nationwide strike early this week. And the same tired, old tactic of jeepney drivers in past generations—of holding the riding public and the government hostage through mass actions —was employed.
I do not have the space to debate the merits and demerits of jeepney modernization—or even the abolition of these sentimental but always controversial vehicles of mass transportation. That would take me to the lack of public infrastructure and the disaster that is government-run public mass transport.
What’s I’ll say is this: The people are no longer happy with the way they are being sacrificed by the jeepney groups. And if the people lose their patience with these groups, which have never been known to look out for the welfare of anyone outside of their own members, there will be hell to pay.
That’s because, while jeepneys are a way of life for some, a lot more people get inconvenienced when they defend the old ways and resist change for the better.