As government forces continue to close in on the remaining ISIS/Maute holdouts in Marawi, one thing is clear: the city has practically been razed to the ground.
But beyond the physical structures, what was also demolished was the subculture that harbored crime, deceit, drugs and extremism. That the Maute and ISIS groups were in Marawi long before the May 23 siege is a reality many in the country — in Mindanao itself — have to admit.
Speaking from the heart on social media, one Maranao doctor, Farina Marohomsalic, had this to say:
'I first heard of the rumor of these young "ISIS wannabes" in Lanao del Sur five years ago in one of these FB groups. Somebody who has access to some military "intel" insisted they were true. We, of course, didn't believe him. I was away from home then. When I came back home i found it to be true.
'They were handing out pamphlets and aggressively recruiting.
'Did I do something? No, other than advise relatives not to believe them. Nothing much. Did it occur to me to inform the authorities? What for? They already knew their existence even before many of us did. Everybody's talking about it, it was an open secret. It was like a dog poop that every passerby could smell ànd do nothing except inform others there's a dog poop somewhere.'
The facts are clear: ISIS has been among us for too long. Past governments did not raise any alarm, and did nothing to counter its presence; in January 2016 even downplayed the possibility of it being here.
Many in the mainstream media did not take President Duterte seriously when he repeatedly warned of the ISIS in late 2016 and in the beginning of this year. They thought he was merely out to scare them into justifying what they believed were strongman measures.
And even when the fighting broke out in May, social media detractors went so far as to accuse the President of instigating the violence to justify Martial Law.
But the singular truth is that the previous administration left Marawi to its own devices while this abomination took root and thrived. It stood by while the flyers were being openly distributed and the recruitment was taking place.
The Maute group is accused of coopting government to help it achieve its twisted agenda. But on a darker note, can its influence also be traced to some quarters in the previous administration, more particularly in the Liberal Party? That is a question, devilish as it may sound, that is worth asking at this point.
For why shouldn’t it be asked? Narco-politicians have been cavorting with terror groups all across the globe for decades, why shouldn’t our own traditional politicians behave otherwise? To say that the LP is populated with drug lords clad in pinstriped suits may be stretching the imagination too far. Yet who is to say that our once-distinguished political structure has never been compromised, over the long years, for exigency and expediency?
Questions, questions. And while we search for answers, terror bides its time at our doorsteps.