Those who are still claiming that the declaration of martial law on the entire island of Mindanao was a case of overkill had better revise their positions. In what has been described as an opportunistic, diversionary move by extremist Islamic terrorists, upwards of 300 armed jihadists yesterday attacked a school in Pigkawayan town, North Cotabato province, withdrawing only after being repelled by security forces but taking with them an unknown number of civilians whom they apparently intend to use as human shields against pursuing troops.
A spokesman for the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a splinter group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, claimed responsibility for the latest attack. It was the first known “spillover” incident, almost a month after the Islamic State-inspired Maute terrorist group took over Marawi City and started the war with the armed forces that continues to this day.
The BIFF, like the Maute gang and the Abu Sayyaf bandit group, are among the extremist armed Muslim groups that are actively seeking the support of the IS. Reports of the North Cotabato attack remained sketchy as of late yesterday afternoon, with various sources claiming that one militiaman was reported wounded so far.
The armed forces would not confirm or deny that the BIFF attack was intended to divert the attention of the military away from the fighting in Marawi. But the fact that casualties have been negligible speaks volumes about the readiness of the troops in Mindanao, who have so far been successful in capturing important players in the Marawi battle who might have otherwise escaped, had the checkpoints and patrols all over over island not been in place.
President Rodrigo Duterte had earlier warned of an escalation of the conflict into a “civil war” involving Christian groups, whom he said are now arming themselves, on one side, and Muslims, on the other, if Marawi is not taken back from the Maute terrorists. After Duterte’s many statements on the gravity of the terrorism in Mindanao have mostly been proven correct, I wonder if his warning of a much larger conflict on the island is not coming to pass, as well.
As usual, the Manila-based anti-Duterte politicians who have criticized the declaration of martial law all over Mindanao are being proven wrong. We can only pray that the President’s fears of a bigger war— which has until yesterday been confined to Marawi—are mistaken, as well.
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These days, of course, the anti-martial law cries of Duterte’s critics have ratcheted down considerably. As the Marawi conflict drags on, there have been fewer and fewer opposition leaders and their supporters in the media and elsewhere who have been demanding that Duterte and the military scale down their efforts to retake the city.
Even the usually critical Commission on Human Rights has declared that there have been no reports of abuses by the military on the ground so far, something that has silenced the usually noisy bleeding-heart liberal opponents of Duterte, both here and abroad. The silence of Duterte’s critics in Europe, which is hard-put dealing with terrorist attacks in their own backyard, is particularly eloquent.
Except for some unbelievably dense politicians like Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman and Senator Risa Hontiveros, most critics of martial law and the continuing military action in Marawi and the rest of Mindanao have not been heard from in the past few days. Even the justices of the Supreme Court who have been vocal about their reservations concerning Duterte’s Proclamation 216 have not been airing their anti-Duterte biases.
As for the ordinary Filipinos, I think they have long been convinced that there is no other way to deal with the Marawi situation but with an iron hand and an unrelenting military counter-offensive. As the entire world already knows, mostly through sad first-hand experience, there is simply no negotiating with terrorists, especially the particularly virulent and violent strain that pledges its allegiance to the IS.
The Pigcawayan attack can only galvanize the nation further against IS-inspired terrorism. The entire citizenry must now rally behind the military and the Duterte administration, as it puts down the terrorists who want to tear the country apart and establish an outpost of the fundamentalist Islamic caliphate on our shores.
We are not the first nation confronted with the threat of IS-style territorial takeover. But despite our own experience with extremist groups in the past, we have not seen this new strain of kill-crazy, possibly drug-fueled rebellion that will not surrender even in the face of insurmountable odds.
What should we, the ordinary citizens do? Well, we can support our troops and trust in our government, both of whom have given us the only viable option for dealing with the Maute group and its fellow IS-following groups.
And we can refuse to listen to politicians like Lagman and Hontiveros and their sympathizers, who, like terrorists, only seek to tear the nation apart with their opportunistic actions. At least the Maute, ASG and BIFF can be easily identified; the terroristic politicians, because they claim to have the country’s interest at heart, are sometimes harder to pinpoint.