May 23 marks one year having passed since the dark surprise that befell a year ago, when Muslim extremists appeared from the shadows to foil the attempt by authorities to arrest a notorious international terrorist in Marawi, capital of the province of Lanao del Sur. Within a day, the insurgents have driven off government forces from the city and did the formerly unthinkable event in recent Philippine history: the establishment of a “wilayat” territory that is part of the Global Caliphate of terror group ISIS. The terrorists were driven off months later; but to this day, not much has changed.
The first anniversary of the start of the Marawi Siege, or Battle of Marawi, took place on Wednesday, May 23. It was commemorated in several ways. For instance, Inquirer.net reports that the Philippine Army paid tribute to all its combat dead during the five-month crisis at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani in Taguig. The ceremony consisted of a wreath-laying on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier monument, to represent the 168 military personnel and police officers who were killed in action to dislodge the ISIS-aligned terrorists from Marawi, which also resulted in 47 civilians and over 900 insurgents dead.
A pageantry of even that level seems utterly alien compared to the current condition of the city where everything happened in 2017. Marawi remains a ghost town according to ABS-CBN News; its center portion – designated the “Main Affected Area” – remains cordoned off from the public as final sweeping operations to find and detonate unexploded ordinance continues. Afterwards, demolition works will take care of the ruined buildings to make way for reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts, plans that may not see completion until the start of the next decade. The Red Cross estimates 230,000 refugees from Marawi, only few given temporary-built shelters nearby.
The Marawi Crisis which briefly established ISIS territory in the Philippines was the brainchild of Isnilon Hapilon, leader of the Abu Sayyaf terrorist bandit group, and the Islamist group headed by brothers of the Maute Family. Before the Army and Philippine National Police started its operation to capture Hapilon, he and the Maute group have already formed a plan to seize Marawi as the foundation of ISIS territory in Southeast Asia, with Hapilon as its “Emir”. The battle to eliminate local and foreign ISIS fighters eventually saw the deaths of Hapilon and the Maute brothers when hostilities ended October 2017.
Interestingly, President Rodrigo Duterte, who oversaw military operations during the Marawi Siege, elected not to join anniversary commemorations of the event on Wednesday, according to CNN Philippines. This is because, as Special Assistant to the President Christopher Go states, Pres. Duterte will only celebrate the Marawi liberation on October 23.
Photo courtesy of Inquirer