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Listening to Maranaw voices

Mags Maglana /

DAVAO City–These days, it is important to actively listen to Maranaw voices, not only those from Marawi, but even those from the adjoining areas of Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte. I emphasize “active listening” because of its proven effectiveness in conflict management and resolution.

Practitioners of active listening emphasize approaches to overcome barriers to effective understanding. But active listening in the context of the ongoing crisis in Marawi means going beyond the technique of repeating back in the terms of the speaker what had been said.

For starters, it entails seeking them out, or at least finding ways of hearing their voices. One would have thought that with the media and public attention on Marawi, this would not be difficult. But mainstream media coverage tends to focus on “news that sells,” which often means highlighting events and prominent talking heads with little analysis. When citizens do get featured, they are often portrayed as pitiful victims, grateful recipients of aid, and endorsers of the dominant views, or those which the outfit intends to sell.

In four occasions after the crisis broke out on May 23, I have had the opportunity to be in the company of, and listen to women and men who had been affected by the attack of the Dawla Islamiya and the Isnilon Hapilon group of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), the subsequent military operations against them, and the declaration of Martial Law over Mindanao, and suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus through Proclamation 216. They were a range of voices from various backgrounds, experiences and persuasions: students, teachers, parents, peace and human rights advocates, development workers, and local government functionaries.

Marawi may be the site of the current conflict, but those who have been affected by the campaign against terrorism include not only those who are from other places and call Marawi home, but also residents of Butig and Piagapo where clashes with the Dawla took place in 2016 and early 2017.

Maranaws talked about being terrorized by the activities of the Dawla forces who, beginning May 23 overran facilities in Marawi, and engaged in arson to allegedly draw away military troops that attempted to serve a warrant against Hapilon.

But there were those who said that their Dawla-induced terror had been overshadowed by the longer period of military operations, particularly the airstrikes and the lockdown on the city under a Martial Law environment. There were stories of discrimination experienced in military checkpoints, alleged summary execution of suspects, accusations of looting in sites that supposedly are under the control of government forces, and arrests of those suspected of having provided services—knowingly or otherwise—to the Dawla, among others.

If one does not actively listen to a range of voices, it would be easy to conclude that no human rights violations had occurred in Marawi and other places because that is what the military said, that if there had been any, these would have been collateral damage in the war against terrorism, and that those who do complain are being obstructionists at the very least, or worse, pro-terrorists and anti-government.

But the paradox of the struggle against terrorism, which in the Philippines reportedly feeds on factors like experiences of oppression, injustice, isolation and destitution, is that while there needs to be a vigorous campaign against it, it cannot be just any kind of campaign.

Measures that temporarily arrest terroristic activities but which will only fuel the very sentiments that make terrorism attractive could end up unwittingly awarding a future franchise to terror-oriented groups.   In a parallel experience, a report attributed to the MI5, the domestic counter-intelligence and security agency of the United Kingdom, warned that “traditional law enforcement tactics could backfire if handled badly or used against people who are not seen as legitimate targets.“

Omielhaya Sharief, a Maranaw who delivered the State of the Bakwit Address (Soba) on the same day as the second State of the Nation Address (Sona) of President Rodrigo Duterte, lamented the destruction of Marawi, and asked whether government would resort to the same means had it been other areas like Cebu that came under attack by groups referred to as Isis. She reiterated the recommendation that their religious and traditional leaders be allowed to talk to the Isis about leaving Marawi, given the clan-oriented and tightly knit nature of Maranaw communities, and the respect accorded to these leaders.

Active listening requires the willingness to suspend one’s favored mindsets about the Marawi crisis and the Maranaws.

That one of their congressional representatives referred to them as “Maranawans” in his speech during the July 22 Special Joint Session on the extension of Proclamation 216 was perhaps less a slip, and more indicative of how misunderstood Maranaws must feel these days.

President Duterte blamed Maranaws for “letting in” terrorists. While the various institutions of Maranaw society should collectively take stock of their situation, and examine the various causes, factors, consequences, implications and complications of the crisis, it is neither productive nor helpful to call out the Maranaws without calling on other equally responsible institutions, particularly public ones.

It is high time that the government and the security sector assess the different anti-terrorism policies and plans. Among these are the National Internal Security Plan formulated by the National Security Council to deal with such threats as the ASG, and its successor, the Development Support and Security Plan “Kapayapaan.”

Other measures include Memorandum Order No. 31 series of 2001 on the “Fourteen Pillars of Policy and Action Against Terrorism” and No. 37 that operationalizes government’s commitment to participate in the international anti-terrorism drive. The latest and most significant legislation is RA 9372: An Act to Secure the State and Protect Our People from Terrorism, or the Human Security Act (HSA) of 2007.

The Anti-Terrorism Council, chaired by the Executive Security and which has the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (Nica) for secretariat, is charged with the proper and effective implementation of HSA. Ought not the President also ask these bodies how terrorism was “let in“ in the Philippines? (to be continued)

(Mags Z. Maglana is a Mindanawon who has worked in various capacities over the past 30 years for peace, good governance, sustainable development, and the promotion of human rights. E-mail: magszmaglana@gmail.com -Mindanews)

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