What happened in Marawi City may be a portent of things to come in the realm of global terrorism. The Philippine Army must put extra effort into developing and enhancing its capabilities and competence in order to be able to respond adequately should a need arise.
Although the ISIS–Maute Terrorist Group was defeated in the Battle of Marawi, it is imperative that the Philippine Army revisit its policies, doctrines, and protocols in order to better equip and train its personnel for the challenges that the times dictate – urban warfare, cyber warfare, and the global fight against terrorism.
The Battle of Marawi will always be remembered as the treacherous act of the Maute brothers, headed by Omarkhayam and Abdullah, which put the Philippines infamously on the world stage in the year 2017. This put our part of the world in peril as terrorists from the region and other parts of the world took part in the terrorist rebellion in Marawi City under the leadership of Isnilon Hapilon.
Located in Lanao del Sur in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Marawi is at the center of the Islamic groups in the Philippines.
As an Islamic City, Marawi is ruled by the old Muslim Law or the Sharia Law, which existed in the olden times and is still being practiced; however, the Maranaos excluded the practice of stoning, amputation, flagellation, and other acts of punishment of this kind.
The ethnicity of the Maranaos is a blend of Malay-Arabic ancestry. They settled the lands way ahead of any historical explorations and occupations by the Spaniards and other foreigners chronicled in the Philippines. These natives inhabited the surrounding edge of the lake on the Bukidnon-Lanao side in North Central Mindanao, giving them the moniker ‘Lake Dwellers’ or ‘People of the Lake.’
Available data from the 20th century point to the Maranaoan community, numbering about 840,000, as the largest of the Moro ethnic groups in Mindanao. Maranaos are very clannish. They live close to one another and around Mosques. They follow the Quran strictly. Wealth or stature are manifested in their elaborate clothing designs, embellishments, and jewelry. For colors, they veer towards bright colors like vibrant reds, purple, and gold, as seen in their exotic textiles, woven mats, and ornaments. They love music and dance, and the magnificent Royal Maranao Fan Dance, Kasingkil, with its splendid costumes, is truly a sight to behold.
As a people who have repulsed any form of foreign invasion and retained distinctly their own culture, it is not unusual for Maranaos to want their own rules, laws, and government structure. Their quest for autonomy makes them vulnerable to extremism, as evidenced by the crisis that gripped the City of Marawi in May 2017.
Being known as the Islamic City in a predominantly Catholic nation, it was not unusual that Isnilon Hapilon targeted Marawi City to launch his attack and establish a caliphate with the help of the Maute brothers and the Abu Sayyaf Group on the 23rd of May 2017.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) was responsible for the terroristic activities in Iraq. They later on affiliated with terrorist cells in Syria. Isnilon Hapilon was identified with the former. Hapilon’s faction was based in Southern Mindanao and the Island of Basilan; later, they moved to Central Mindanao to unite with ISIS supporters.
The Maute Brothers, Omarkhayam and Abdullah, were descendants of an influential and affluent clan of Maranao warriors based in Butig, Lanao del Sur. They were born to Cayamora and Ominta Farhana Romato Maute. They spent their adventurous childhood years in the town of Butig. The two brothers were described as bright, religious, and ambitious men. They both had the opportunity to study in Egypt and Jordan, which furthered their knowledge of the Quran and made them fluent in Arabic and English.
The DAESH links in the country were first known through a video posted on social media on the 23rd of July 2014, showing the pledge of allegiance of the Basilan-based ASG leader, Isnilon Hapilon, and his followers to DAESH Leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Other militant groups, including the Maute Group of Lanao del Sur, soon followed suit.
In the latter part of 2015, the ASG and the Maute group strengthened their terroristic ties and alliances and emerged as a terrorist threat to reckon with.
Omarkhayam and Abdullah Maute were well-schooled, idealistic, and quite explicit about their ideology. They had the benefit of an education, which made them adaptable to the ever-changing world of information technology, and were quite well-versed in its use. They were comfortable moving in and out of the different strata of society. Their use of the Internet to widen their social propaganda came naturally. Their posts were quite vocal about their opinions and ideas and even discussed how to achieve an Islamic State.
Their father, Cayamora Maute, an engineer, was arrested in Bgy Sirawan, Toril, Davao City, on the 6th of June 2017 when his Toyota Grandia van was stopped at a checkpoint days before their mother’s arrest. Later on, Cayamora Maute died inside his prison cell on the 17th of August 2017 due to fragile health.
Their mother, Farhana Maute, was a businesswoman and the financier of the brothers. She was also responsible for recruiting the youth into their movement. Her businesses ranged from owning real estate properties in Mindanao and Manila to construction, furniture, pre-owned cars, and even jewelry. She was arrested on the 9th of June 2017 in Masiu, Lanao del Sur. Her arrest was a big blow to the Maute brothers’ plans.
Social media became the primary means of propaganda used by the Maute brothers to influence others to join them, obtain funds, spread disinformation, send out appeals to the youth, broadcast their ISIS ideology, and set up a caliphate in the City of Marawi, Lanao del Sur.
After the raising of the ISIS flag in Marawi City at the start of the siege, due to the cruel acts committed by the Maute brothers and their supporters throughout the five months of terror – looting, vandalizing, intimidation, carnapping, arson, molesting, rape, killing, bombing, shooting innocent civilians, and others, in the end, the Maute brothers and their followers achieved nothing but notoriety.
The five-month-long Battle of Marawi against the combined military, police, and coast guard troops resulted in the deaths of Isnilon Hapilon, Omarkhayam Maute, and Abdullah Maute, which brought those seemingly endless days of fighting to a final halt, thus creating a leadership vacuum in their organization.