Crisis in Marawi, martial law in Mindanao, suffering of evacuees, tragedy at Resorts World Manila, fake news from the Department of Justice.
These filled the front pages of newspapers and topped the newscasts on the eve of celebrations for the nation’s 119th Independence Day. It was as if the events had conspired to thumb collective noses at what should have been a joyful and united celebration of freedom achieved by patriotism and heroism.
Instead, these reports of violence gone amok and lies propagated brazenly draw attention to a deeply troubled country, where dysfunction plagues society, where violence is a daily reality for many.
And the P64-million question on people’s minds: As the battle with militants in Marawi rages, can President Rodrigo Duterte still make good on his election promise to find a lasting solution to the violence and poverty on his home island?
A band of extremists decides to sow terror in Marawi City so their leader, Isnilon Hapilon, can escape. That is bad.
Then the government retaliates and launches air strikes against them. That is worse.
The greatest casualties of the air strikes were innocent children, women, other civilians and even soldiers killed by friendly fire. Residents fear this will make it even easier for the extremists to recruit followers.
Evacuees interviewed on national television showed so much pain and suffering on their faces and in their voices. They have but one prayer: End the air strikes in Marawi, lift martial law in Mindanao, resume peace talks and bring back sanity and order in their already dismal lives. They reminded the government that the declaration of martial law never solved the problem of communist insurgency and is likewise not a solution to problems in Mindanao.
1974 scorched earth tactic
We never learn. The Christian-Muslim conflict in Sulu was a result of the massive resettlement of Christians in Mindanao in the last century. Land grabbing by Christians resulted in massacres of Muslims. This prompted Nur Misuari to form the Moro National Liberation Front in 1969.
The Moro conflict worsened in the 1970s. From January to February 1970, battles for the takeover of Jolo airport intensified. Fires broke out and the town was burned after government forces reportedly dropped napalm.
The worst fire occurred in 1974. The municipality was nearly razed to the ground by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, following Marcos’ scorched earth tactic. Thousands of civilians were killed and nearly 10,000 refugees fled to nearby Zamboanga City, turning Jolo into a ghost town overnight.
Those who left, including a number of my friends, never went back nor looked back.
On Sept. 24, 1974, the army killed at least 1,000 Moro civilians who were praying in a mosque in what is now known as the Malisbong massacre, or the Tacbil mosque massacre.
Sulu hardly recovered from that debacle. The province, especially its capital Jolo, used to be a flourishing entrepot that connected the Philippines to the rest of the world up to the early 20th century. The Moro conflict destroyed the erstwhile commercial hub.
Children of those killed in the massacres and the swath of destruction became easily enticed as recruits of extremists groups.
Bombing of Pikit, Cotabato
In 2000, President Joseph Estrada launched an “all-out war” policy to capture the camps of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The military bombed Pikit, a first-class municipality in North Cotabato. The policy triggered the exodus of 800,000 to one million civilians in Mindanao, said to be the single biggest episode of internal displacement in the country since World War II.
Children of the “bakwits” (evacuees) were asked to draw their memories of the displacement. Many drew government planes bombing their place. Many said when they grow up they will shoot down those planes and avenge their dead loved ones.
This was followed by the Zamboanga siege in 2013, during the presidency of Benigno Aquino III. About 100,000 refugees stayed in evacuation camps. Many still live there.
Will Marawi City and the entire province of Lanao del Sur suffer the same ill fate that befell Sulu, Cotabato and Zamboanga?
A statement from the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Center summarized it aptly: “History has shown us that no true peace and order can be achieved through such brutal means. On the contrary, a military solution will sow seeds of discontent and spread violence instead of containing them.”
It is ridiculous that intelligence information is being gathered from Facebook conspiracy theorists.
No less than Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre created a furor when he implied that Senators Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV and Antonio Trillanes IV, Rep. Gary Alejano, and Ronald Llamas, Aquino’s former political adviser, may have been involved in the Marawi attack on May 2.
He showed media a photo on his mobile phone of the four ostensibly together in Marawi, and noted that shortly after this alleged meeting violence broke out there.
It turns out the photo was lifted from Zamboanga del Sur Vice Gov. Ace Cerilles’ Facebook wall. It was taken on Sept. 4, 2015 at the Iloilo International Airport.
The lawmakers mentioned vehemently denied Aguirre’s tale and showed records of their attendance in Congress on May 2. Alejano, a former Marine officer, cited Congress records showing he was in a press conference that day with the House media together with members of the independent minority. He attended the plenary session that afternoon.
Trillanes said he has not visited Marawi the last three years. Aquino said he was in Marawi for the Go Negosyo campaign but not on May 2.
“The incompetence of Aguirre is only matched by his stupidity. I would advise him to avoid getting his intel from Facebook,” Alejano said. Aguirre has since apologized to Aquino but he also courted more vehemence when he tried to blame the media for misquoting him.
“Trying to blame others for your blunders unmasks you as a mean-spirited coward,” said Ryan Rosauro, chair of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines. Aguirre’s words were recorded on video and audio, he said.
Crimes and casinos
Gambling is evil. Nothing good will ever come out of it. The charitable projects supported by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. cannot justify the lives destroyed by gambling.
We still have a “live” victim of kidnapping – a Chinese national, 22, taken on April 25 after a night of gambling at Solaire Resort & Casino. This is not an isolated incident.
At the anti-crime watchdog Movement for Restoration of Peace and Order, we are finding that many kidnapping cases are linked to gambling debts.
We have helped many families whose members were allegedly kidnapped and ransom was demanded in exchange for their lives. We would learn later that it was not a kidnap-for-ransom case at all. The victim was kidnapped and would be released when the gambling debts were paid.
This time, however, there is still no news on the 22-year-old even though nearly P20 million has been paid. The abductors are asking for more money.
Meanwhile, the shooting tragedy at Resorts World Manila is definitely a loud wakeup call.
Jessie Javier Carlos, a heavily indebted gambler, went on a shooting rampage in the hotel and casino unhindered by in-house security staff. He also set fire to the premises before killing himself. This resulted in 37 dead due to suffocation, and 78 injured.
This horrible, heartbreaking incident throws light on the lives gambling has destroyed as surely as terrorism has. It also highlights how ill-prepared our hotels and public places are for terrorist attacks and accidents.
We at MRPO and Kaisa joined the Tsinoy community to protest against gambling in a hotel on Sabino Padilla Street in Binondo in 2005. But a thriving gambling den is there now. The hotel is on a city block of prime real estate. That block belonged to a prominent Tsinoy family until their patriarch bet away the valuable property in an all-night gambling frenzy.
These tragedies and the distress caused could be averted if we join hands and continue to campaign against turning our country into a big gambling destination like Las Vegas and Macau.
The stakes are high: our children’s well-being today and in the future.