The key spokesperson of the 148-day Marawi crisis on Tuesday called for a “bigger and broader” approach in combatting extremism in the southern Philippines.
Speaking on CNN Philippines’ The Source, Lanao del Sur Crisis Management Committee spokesman Zia Alonto Adiong warned that some are enticed by extremist ideology because of groups that have “resentment against minority Muslims.”
He did not name these groups. However, national government’s decades of neglecting the resource-rich southern Philippine island of Mindanao, which is home to a Muslim minority, has led to a growing feeling of disenchantment among Filipino Muslims and has led to the rise of different rebel and extremist groups.
“If we keep experiencing these double standards… it reinforces the narrative of the terrorists that Muslims here need to take up arms because they’ve been treated as second-class citizens,” Adiong said.
He emphasized the need for continuing partnership with civilians, local government, and religious leaders. The focus from fighting the ISIS-linked Maute Group to rebuilding Marawi City has shifted following the deaths on Monday of two main leaders of the terror group, which infiltrated predominantly Muslim Marawi City.
“Aside from reconstruction… [and] rehabilitation, we need to come up with a much bigger plan. We need to inspire the people to really help the government in fighting violent extremism,” said Adiong in the interview. Government has estimated it may need P100 billion pesos (US$3 billion) to rebuild and rehabilitate Marawi City.
He urged non-Muslim Filipinos to extend their assistance post-crisis to the Maranao, the ethnic group that considers Marawi City and Lanao del Sur their home.
“Just make the victims feel they are not alone in this fight, that even if you are Muslim, you are not being maltreated or discriminated,” said Adiong, whose family were longtime residents of Marawi City. He and his family is among the hundreds of thousands of residents who lost their homes in the fighting which began in May 23.
He emphasized it was important for the Maranao people to have “a sense of ownership” after what they endured in the nearly five-month long crisis.
“We need to really trickle down our plan for the people to really feel the ownership of this crisis… so they can be able to go up front and fight and face this problem that is again brought up by violent ideologies,” he said.
The spokesperson also stressed that the conflict was not religious in nature, since the fighting that the Maute group started was “un-Islamic.”
In August, Muslim leaders called the “ulama,” or Islamic scholars, signed a fatwa or manifesto condemning the Maute group and their activities. The religious leaders in turn received a death threat from the group.
“The real victim of this siege… is actually Islam. It has been, for so many years, represented by a group of people who pose themselves as warriors,” said Adiong.
“Religion is just a belief, a personal matter. It doesn’t necessarily mean we need to dissolve the… similarities between and among us,” he added.
According to a study from Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), development assistance must also “work to improve governance, eliminate private armies, address the dysfunctional criminal justice system, stem corruption, uphold human rights and resurrect the peace process.”
“Recruiters were able to build on the narrative of state brutality long before the battle for Marawi began, but the military’s reliance on airstrikes after it was underway enabled the fighters to blame the government for the city’s destruction,” the study read.
Also on Tuesday, President Rodrigo Duterte declared the liberation of Marawi City from the Maute, following the death of high profile extremist personalities Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute.
The Marawi crisis broke out in May and has left 163 soldiers, 47 civilians, and 847 Maute group members dead.
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