Marawi: from Islamic City to garrison city?

Macabangkit B. Lanto

In an apparent effort to forestall a repeat of the war in Marawi City, the government recently announced a plan to put up another military camp there, this time within striking distance of ground zero. The apparent thinking is that it will secure the city and address the exponential growth of restiveness and radicalization among the local Muslim youth and their attraction to the Salafist-Islamic State ideology. The President said he would assign a regiment (3,000-5,000 soldiers) to the planned camp. 

Such a move will not serve the purpose. 

And were the stakeholders consulted? Are we seeing a manifestation and imposition of martial law authority that is insensitive to the peculiar cultural, social and political values and life of the Marawi residents, despite the commander in chief’s claimed kinship with the locals? The decision without consultation (a core value of a republican government) is less democratic and has the potential of generating more problems than solutions. Once again, the national government has fallen into the error and folly of deciding what the residents need, instead of the residents deciding what they need—a culprit in misgovernance. 

If the plan materializes, it will transform Marawi into a garrison city with all the marks and infrastructure of a military zone of conflict. Did anyone tell the President that at present, there is the military Kampo Ranao strategically located at the northwest side of the city and a huge police camp which is just a kilometer away? Added to these are irritating outposts and checkpoints. 

With another military camp, the religious ambience of Marawi will be desecrated and its landscape marred by military installations, trenches, dugouts, rolled barbed wire, foxholes, and display of war hardware. (Whatever happened to the supermodern design of a dream megapolis presented by architect Jun Palafox?) This kind of environment will only serve to perpetuate the scars of war on the psyche of the youth who are nurturing a rebellious and vindictive mindset because of their exposure to catastrophe in Marawi. The great danger now is that their anger is slowly shifting from the Islamic State to the government as authorities procrastinate on the city’s rehabilitation. 

Will a new fort deter and repel any future rebel attack? Residents say it will even be a magnet for marauding jihadis. In fact, a video showing the rebels poring over a map of the city preparatory to the attack on Marawi confirmed that their real and original plan was to attack and overrun Kampo Ranao. But this was thwarted by the premature sighting of and hunt for the fugitive Isnilon Hapilon, which triggered the war. 

Can the new camp protect Marawi? Its residents don’t need protection from ideology-driven rebels, whose advocacy they strongly condemn; having learned lessons from the war, they vow to fight to the death any such attack. What they need protection from is a flawed decision by policymakers or military commanders. They feel the ruin of Marawi could have been avoided had the government shown a modicum of accommodation for dialogue when the rebels sent surrender feelers. 

Amnesty International tells us that there were human rights violations during the war. The public is asking for evidence. But there are documented tales of abuse by soldiers on civilians in places where

soldiers are encamped. 

The death of Osama bin Laden did not dismantle the war apparatus of al-Qaida, in the way that the liberation of Mosul did not end the dream for a world caliphate. The death of Hapilon and the Maute brothers did not render kaput their followers and their cause. The war in Marawi was a symptom of a deep and more complex sociopolitical problem. The solution, trite as it may seem, lies in sincerely addressing the social malaise of Moros, their poverty and illiteracy, their health conditions, their political aspirations. The government should likewise design a module to reverse the ideological appeal of jihadism. 

Those are the solutions, not another military camp in Marawi. 

Macabangkit B. Lanto (, UP Law 1967, was a Fulbright fellow in New York University for his postgraduate studies. He has served the government as congressman, ambassador, and undersecretary, among other positions.

This article is earlier published by INQUIRER.NET.

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