Securing Zamboanga PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 01 July 2017 13:17

BEHIND  THE  LINES

BY BOB JALDON

San Jose, CA. — It’s been more than a month since the battle in Marawi started, and viewing the fight on CNN Philippines, GMA News and TV Patrol, the end of the Maute Group is near. Security forces in the Islamic city are boxing in the desperate band of ruthless rebels said to be aligned with the Islamic State (ISIS). The daily aerial bombardment and relentless artillery fire on pinpointed targets have depopulated the terrorists who are apparently using people in their captivity as human shields to slowdown the government’s unrelenting offensive to mow them down.

From video clips posted on Facebook, the terrorists have been slowed down by ground attacks making it difficult for them from holding their ground inside the largest Muslim-Filipino populated city in the Philippines. It could be possible that the ISIS force has been drastically reduced to a small fighting group that is running out of ammunition, food and medical supplies.

To boost its offensive, the armed forces received a weapons gift from the People’s Republic of China (PROC) the other day to back the military’s arsenal. This on top of the tactical assistance given by the United States and Australia — two allied countries that have been subjected to El Presidente’s verbal reproach in the past.

Two weeks into the “war”, the AFP estimated that there were about 500 Islamic extremists in Marawi led by Isnilon Hapilon and the Maute brothers. Now, the AFP says, they’re down to less than 100. They blew up buildings, desecrated a Catholic Church, torched government buildings and schoolhouses and took civilians, including a priest, hostages.

Soldiers have either shot or apprehended some terrorists attempting to flee the battle scene. Some have been caught in Zamboanga del Sur and Sibugay province. The death toll varies every hour,  but as of three days ago fresh estimates tabulated more than 300 people, including civilians, soldiers, terrorists have already perished in the bloodiest war against terrorism since 1972.

Temporarily sheltered in schools, the government has assured that the  displaced people won’t face shortage of food and drinking water. Local governments in Mindanao, like Zamboanga, have been providing food and clothing to the refugees.

Meanwhile, soldiers are inching their way through parts of the neighborhood still controlled by the terrorists. And because of the hot pursuit by the military and police, the enemy is left with no choice but to throw in the towel. That’s forthcoming after the Ulamas offered to negotiate for the surrender of the terrorists.

Speaking in Malacanang a few days ago, El Presidente promised to rebuild Marawi from the ashes of war. He sent his emissary to inspect and assess the situation and submit a budgetary estimate of much it will cost to rehabilitate this once tranquil city, tagged as the summer capital of Mindanao.

This brazen attack of Marawi shouldn’t be taken as an isolated incident, just like the bloody siege of Zamboanga in 2013. ISIS, through local terrorist groups, is clearly expanding its territory toward Southeast Asia. The terrorists could have targeted Isabela, Jolo, Bongao, Cotabato or Zamboanga. But they chose Marawi, a city at the tip of Lanao del Sur with a population of a little over 200,000 and, therefore, easier to control. It could also be “territorial jurisdiction” — the Maute Group controlling Marawi, and the Abu Sayyaf and other terror groups making Basilian and Jolo as bases. They need to spread their deadly clout.

Now, Zamboanga, Cotabato and General Santos, to include other provinces in Mindanao should guard their backs. If there’s a crucial time to secure Zamboanga from trepidation by this band of murderers, it must be now! El Presidente should go door to door, instead of making campaign speeches, in suspected terrorists’ hideouts to get them and their guns and war materiel. Our southern backdoor should be patrolled intensively. The military and police must be more vigilant than ever to protect, as they are mandated and paid to do, the civilian populace and targeted cities by the terrorists. Zamboanga was complacent in 2013 inspite of hundreds of text messages that circulated that it would be attacked at dawn of Sept. 9 by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). Let not that be repeated!

In the meantime, our seaport and airport must be secured, so should our malls and parks from bomb attacks. We’ve seen this scenario happen in the last four decades. I’m sure that civilians won’t complain about a more rigid inspection of their bodies, bags, purses or anything getting into public places and rides. Tougher security measures can save lives.

Reading the New York Times yesterday, maybe we should take heed of the warning issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security: “Make no mistake. Our enemies are constantly working to find new methods for disguising explosives, recruiting insiders and hijacking aircraft.”