It’s hard to reminisce what happened to the Moro ummah (community) last year without being sad and enraged. The death, displacement, and destruction of Moro communities, most especially Marawi City, due to the continuing policy of “war on terror,” has made the Moro people question their support to a Mindanaoan leader. Others felt cheated of the promises of change that never came more than a year after President Rodrigo Duterte came into power.

The most affected were our Maranao brothers and sisters who for 153 days felt helpless, most hopeless, as they saw on mainstream and social media how their houses and establishments were pulverized due to incessant aerial bombings, the main tactic used by the government to subdue ISIS-inspired groups that attacked Marawi City in May 2017.

Around 400,000 residents were reported affected and displaced in Marawi City and neighboring towns in Lanao del Sur. The death toll of civilians due to indiscriminate bombings and firing still need to be thoroughly investigated as they were lumped together with the number of “terrorists” killed inside the battle zone. Apart from death due to diseases inside the evacuation center, reports of children killed and wounded due to indiscriminate firing in Marawi City should also be investigated. The psychological effect to children and even to their parents and elders should not be downplayed.

MARAWI KIDS. Children are among the the most vulnerable to diseases brought about by less than ideal living conditions present in evacuation centers. This photo, taken on July 27, 2017 depicts children at the Madrasah school turned evacuation center in Barangay Tomas Cabili, Iligan City lining up for treats distributed by social workers. (Paulo C. Rizal/

Just like its implementation in other Moro communities, the US government instigated “war on terror” has tested the unity of the Moro community and exposed the true loyalty of our elected leaders. In the previous decade, former Abu Sayyaf leader-turned-Basilan governor supported then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s “state of lawlessness” that arrested, detained several residents of Basilan and tortured into admitting they are Abu Sayyaf members and supporters.

The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) is one of the four groups listed by the US State Department as foreign terrorist organizations (FTO) and the subject of its Rewards for Justice Program, a $5-million bounty for every ASG leader presented to the US. This same bounty was used to arrest Isnilon Hapilon, a known Abu Sayyaf leader from Basilan and self-proclaimed ISIS leader, who was among those who led the siege of ISIS-inspired groups in Marawi City last May.

When President Duterte declared the first 60 days Martial Law in Mindanao and ordered the aerial bombardment of Marawi City, the pleas for a stop to the bombings by several Moro religious and community leaders were overridden by the push of the military and the support of local elected leaders to President Duterte. In the two legislative hearings for President Duterte’s request of an extended Martial Law declaration, all the Moro representatives, including partylists supposedly representing Moro sentiments, voted in favor of the administration. In the last hearing on December, not one Mindanao victim or Marawi resident was allowed to present their sentiment on the impacts of the implementation of Martial Law, covering up reported abuses of the military that led to human rights violations.

Some Maranao victims hoped that the peace negotiations the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has with the Philippine government will provide a venue for their cry of injustice. However, any critical response of the MILF against President Duterte’s declaration would have its toll on the ongoing peace negotiation and affect the passing of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which the MILF believe to be the answer to the Bangsamoro problem. On the other hand, the MILF’s attack against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), in support to President Duterte’s drive against terrorist groups, has been criticized by some Moro people due to the displacement of fellow Maguindanoan residents in the second district of Maguindanao.

The Maranao victims took it upon themselves to push for justice. Impoverished internally displaced persons who were staying in evacuation centers organized the Tindeg Ranao group to speak out against aerial bombings and declaration of Martial Law. From July to September, they held protest rallies in Iligan City and joined other Moro and Lumad victims in a caravan from Mindanao to Manila. With the help of human rights groups, Tindeg Ranao reported cases of human rights violations to different human rights agencies and groups in the hopes of filing cases against the military and the administrators of Martial Law.

Photo courtesy of Tindeg Ranao

Notable are the young Moro leaders who spoke against President Duterte’s Martial Law: Samira Gutoc, a known Moro woman civic leader, was the one who presented the sentiments of her fellow Maranao brethren in the congressional hearing last July 22 and led a network helping survivors and victims; Aida Ibrahim, a graduate of Mindanao State University – Marawi Campus who has long been the leader of Liga ng Kabataang Moro in Lanao del Sur, led the protest rallies of the Maranao victims in Iligan City and Manila; Jerome Succor Aba, an Iranon youth who is the spokesperson of Suara Bangsamoro and Sandugo Movement of Moro and Indigenous People for Self-Determination, led several rallies in Mindanao and Manila against Martial Law; and, Drieza Lininding, a Moro youth leader who had been consistently informing the public about several cases of human rights violations to Maranao people prior to the Marawi siege and whose FB posts constantly reminded the need for the Moro people to unite.

The words of wisdom of our Maranao elders who were veterans of the fight against injustice also provided guidance such as 70’s Martial Law survivor Bobby Maulana Alonto and religious and community leader Agakhan “Bin Laden” Sharief. Sharief, in particular, was the one who reached out to all sectors, even to President Duterte and the Maute family, for a dialogue to spare the civilians and Marawi City in their fight.

It should also be noted that just like when former President Estrada declared all-out war against the MILF in Mindanao in 2000, several Christian brothers and sisters under the Kalinaw Mindanao network also stood against Duterte’s Martial Law up in defense of the Moro people which helped quell the vicious terror-tagging to Moro in particular and Muslims in general, reach out to other Filipinos to sympathize with the plight and understand the struggle of the Moro people. Unlike President Duterte who accused the Maranaos for “letting in” terrorists, they did not let the actions of the ISIS-inspired groups be a burden of the Maranao people and instead helped the Maranao victims in their quest for justice.

Several challenges will face the Maranao victims and the Moro people in general this year. Martial Law is extended until the end of the year with President Duterte getting US President Trump’s financial and war materiel support. The uncertainty of poor residents in reclaiming their original homes and lands due to a rehabilitation program that caters to foreign and local investors to boost President Duterte’s plan to make Marawi City a tourism hub coupled with an old decree of declaring Marawi City a military reservation. The threat of another attack and as a consequence “cleansing” of Moro cities and provinces just like what happened to Marawi City that has sent some residents in panic.

The passing of the BBL is in the hands of a Duterte-controlled Congress. On which version would be passed, that of the original draft by the MILF-Bangsamoro Transition Commission or a more diluted form of regional autonomy that will pass the “constitutional hurdles,” is another problem. Not to mention if it will be passed before Duterte’s Charter Change and the formation of his federal form of government.

While many may be led to believe that Duterte’s charter change proposals will benefit the Moro and Lumad people’s struggle for self-governance, a closer study at the two proposals submitted by senators and congressmen and the PDP-Laban political party will reveal that the rights of national minorities, including the right to ancestral domain, were deleted to pave way for a hundred percent ownership of foreign investors to our lands.

As President Duterte consolidates all the branches of the government towards his self-defined and Trump-supported peace and order in the Philippines, the Moro people in general are then challenged which side of the political spectrum should they struggle within their pursuit of the right to self-determination – the oligarchs whom Duterte serves and vice-versa, or the Filipino masses that consistently struggle for radical and meaningful change for our country. (

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