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 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.
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.
More so, the public had the fundamental right to be informed. On the other hand, we could not just allow local and foreign media to freely roam around the MBA as they could have been hit by stray bullets, or their broadcast material could have compromised our ongoing operations at that time, or even worse; media practitioners could have been taken as hostages by the enemy. We had to be proactive in engaging the media and, at the same time, strike a balance between what we could show and tell the public vis-à-vis matters that could potentially compromise our operations.
During the crisis, we forged a partnership with mainstream media and social media platforms to strengthen Public Information. We assisted in creating an interagency crisis management team within Lanao del Sur to interact with the media and stakeholders. We also made sure that there was constant military visibility in the newsfeed during the conduct of FMO and stakeholders engagement activities during and after the crisis. With these, we sustained the promotion of a proactive information effort through press briefings or releases, public conferences, mainstream media field immersions, and our digital media peace advocacy campaigns. These helped shape the positive perception of the public and allowed the integration of the concerned communities, stakeholders, and other supportive organizations to help counter enemy propaganda. We also developed a partnership with the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) through the assistance of Director Harold Clavite to increase our reach by capitalizing on their existing network.
Aside from these, platforms and equipment used for ISA were also used for Public Information campaigns, such as radio broadcasts, loudspeakers, and digital media, among others.
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.
From the 23rd of May to the 30th of October 2017, we monitored a total of 1,551 news articles related to the crisis that were published online. Of these, 88%, or a total of 1,365, carried positive views towards our action, 2% carried negative views, while the rest were neutral. Aside from these, we also partnered with mainstream media outfits to produce video reports and documentaries that highlighted the sacrifices and bravery of our soldiers during the crisis. These products went viral on social media and showed the public what we were doing in Marawi City, the humane side of our troops—trials, difficulties, sacrifices—and the plight of the IDPs as a result of the attack of the ISIS-Maute Terrorist Group.
(This entry is part of Chapter 2: Marawi Crisis.)