Our application of the soft power approach during the crisis won the hearts and minds of the nation. It was manifested through the tremendous outpouring of support that we received from the affected communities and the general public. With the overwhelming support of the public, the legitimacy of our military operations against the ISIS-Maute Terrorist Group in Marawi City was established. In doing so, we were able to fulfill our mandate to serve the Filipino people and protect the sovereignty of the Republic of the Philippines.
We were able to convince and change the negative perception of the people towards the men and women in uniform. Decades of struggle accompanied by harbored resentments against the government and our soldiers were softened as they felt the genuine compassion of our soldiers for hostages, IDPs, and stakeholders affected by the crisis.
To agitate the people, the terrorists conjured allegations of corruption, injustice, and abuse purportedly done by the security forces. They exposed the atrocities of Martial Law in the ‘70s, and likened the present declaration to that. They sowed disinformation and fomented black propaganda to discredit the government. Extremist teachings were used to rally support and gain recruits.
We applied the soft power approach during the Marawi crisis across all the levels of army operations: strategic, operational, and on the tactical level. On the tactical level, we applied it within the MBA particularly on the ISIS-Maute fighters, their hostages, and trapped civilians. On the operational level, we applied it outside the MBA, specifically by focusing on the IDPs of Marawi City, their local and traditional leaders, and the people from the surrounding towns, provinces, and the lake area. On the strategic level, we directed our efforts on the Filipino nation and the global community.
We were able to physically and psychologically contain the MBA in Marawi City. While our troops on the ground were providing the physical means to contain the battlefield, our use of Information Operations (IO) became vital in containing it psychologically. IO utilized both hard power and soft power approaches through different Information Related Capabilities (IRC). Led by Lt Col Jo-ar Herrera, the purposive use of the IO Cell allowed us to synchronize and integrate combat and non-combat capabilities. Our end goals were to dominate the information environment, defeat the enemy’s propaganda and disinformation, gain the support and trust of the public in our campaign against the ISIS-Maute Terrorist Group in Marawi City, and to translate our tactical gains into a moral and strategic victory.
JSOTF Trident and its subordinate JTGs applied the hard power approach in the MBA. The IO Cell, JTG Ranao, JTG Tabang, and CMO Coordinating Center (CMOCC) were at the forefront in applying the soft power approach, which relied mainly on IRC and CMO activities. The following narrates how we applied the soft power approach during the crisis using various IRC and CMO activities.
Focused Military Operations (FMO)
FMO provided the lethal aspect of IO. These were the various capabilities that we utilized in fighting the ISIS-Maute Terrorist Group in Marawi City. We translated our tactical gains from the MBA to the information environment through the use of: print, broadcast, interactive media, and digital/social media platforms. Through these, we were able to show that we could defeat the enemy, protect the people of Marawi City, and establish the legitimacy of our operations.
Information Support Affairs
Our use of Information Support Affairs (ISA) played a significant role in our campaign against the ISIS-Maute Terrorist Group. Messages were designed to influence the enemy’s emotions, motives, reasoning, and behavior, thereby, destroying their will to fight. Trapped civilians and hostages inside the MBA were also included as part of our target audience. We applied ISA using various means available at our disposal: loudspeakers, leaflets, text blasts, radio broadcasts, tarpaulins, stakeholder and community engagements, digital media operations, and Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programs.
We viewed Public Information as a critical element during the crisis. The collaborative effort of the different spokespersons: BGen Restituto Padilla (AFP), BGen Gilbert Gapay (EasMinCom), BGen Ramiro Rey (JTF Marawi), Col Edgar Arevalo (AFP-Public Information Office), Col Romeo Brawner (JTF Marawi), Lt Col Jo-ar Herrera (JTF Marawi and 1st Infantry Division), and Cpt Jo Ann Petinglay (WesMinCom) facilitated the synchronization of the effort.
In relation to Public Information, we established a media center located in the Provincial Capitol of Lanao del Sur. This was the venue where we updated the members of the media about the ongoing situation in Marawi City and held our press conferences. Our media team was responsible for managing the center 24/7, and members of the media were free to drop by anytime. The media center was established to release news bulletins for public consumption. We also saw the need to establish protocols, limitations, and procedures to integrate and handle the coverage of local and international press/media practitioners and outfits during the crisis. JTF Marawi was media savvy and friendly.
Community and Stakeholder Engagement
The Marawi crisis affected the displaced civilians physically, psychologically, emotionally, and socially. The people of Marawi City suffered a great loss – death and injury; damage to personal property, cultural and religious structures; loss of livelihood and income; and a disruption of business and education. They were also confronted by the appalling living conditions in evacuation centers. We could not and should not have been indifferent to the plight of these displaced persons.
More details are explained in the book MARAWI AND BEYOND: The JTF Marawi Story. For inquiries, send email to [email protected].