Looking back: Marawi City may have been sacrificed to allow US military interests to remain in the Philippines

The tangled web of the Philippine police and military which links the latter to criminal gangs and other lawless elements has long been whispered about specially in the provinces where it’s mostly an open secret. Friends who have close friends whose relatives are officers in the police and military establishments have informally confirmed these links. Officers who are true to their oath and code have been forced into submission in to ensure their rise in the ranks.

The terrorist attack in Marawi City in 2017 appears to have stemmed from a botched rescue attempt for Isnilon Hapilon, the leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), who was reportedly undergoing medical treatment in Marawi from wounds suffered in an Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) offensive in Sulu. There were also unverified reports that the Marawi incident was a plan to destabilize the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte. The President, at the time, had left for Russia on an official visit of high significance because this was only the second time a Philippine President would be visiting Russia. The first had been Ferdinand Marcos. Duterte was seeking to expand Russo-Filipino relations which has been moribund owing to the country’s close ties to the US. The President’s new independent foreign policy is more focused on developing ties with states formerly considered as pariahs by the United States.

The story goes that the ASG was a creation of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), together with its number one agent in the Philippines, the noisy Filipino schooled at the US Military Academy. The agent had advised his US principals that it would be politically impossible for the government to allow the entry of US forces on a more permanent basis as before during the heyday of Clark and Subic. The Philippine Senate would not be in a position to ratify any new treaty because of the rejection of a similar one in 1991.

Subscribe to our Substack community GRP Insider to receive by email our in-depth free weekly newsletter. Opt into a paid subscription and you'll get premium insider briefs and insights from us.
Subscribe to our Substack newsletter, GRP Insider!
Learn more

The strategy adopted was for the US to negotiate with an autonomous Muslim government in Mindanao. It was for this reason that US aid poured into the island in the early 90s under the Growth with Equity in Mindanao program or GEM. This led to the construction of the General Santos Airport at Tambler, which eerily resembles Clark Air Base and the upgrading of Makar Wharf in Sarangani Bay, again eerily similar to Subic Bay. There was also an underlying economic aspect in the strategy. Gold and copper reserves in Tampakan and oil and gas deposits in Liguasan Marsh. The rationale was it is easier to negotiate with an autonomous Muslim entity as opposed to the Philippine Senate composed of 24 unpredictable Senators.

The justification for getting the US back in would be the presence of the Islamic fundamentalists which are offshoots of the secessionist movements under the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Thus was born the ASG. The 9/11 attack on the US justified the establishment of a Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in Zamboanga to help in “suppressing” the ASG. American troops set up shop inside Edwin Andrews Air Force base within the city. The US pushed for the passage of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) which effectively gave the Muslims control over their ancestral domain which conveniently included the area where the US had readied infrastructure. This is why then US Ambassador Kristie Kenney had been conducting a charm offensive in both Manila and Mindanao. Unfortunately, the MOA-AD was struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional. It was back to square one again.

The timeframe for the above events ran through the administrations of Fidel Ramos, Joseph “Erap” Estrada, and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. It has been speculated that one reason why Estrada was ousted was his policy of all-out war against the secessionists. The AFP was able to retake Camp Abubakar from the MILF only for the Arroyo administration to return to the same when it came into power the restarted peace negotiations with the MILF. The Americans were able to gain a victory with the signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement or EDCA. This allowed US troops and equipment to be based on an extended period in Philippine territory but not as permanent as having bases like Clark and Subic where they could store nuclear weapons.

The next chapter was the peace agreement forged by the Noynoy Aquino administration with the support of Malaysia, which had been brokering the talks. The agreement led to the drafting of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) by the Executive itself which would grant the MILF self-rule over the Muslim areas of Mindanao. The law was doomed from the start because certain provisions had been deemed unconstitutional because they included autonomy over what was considered to be part of the national patrimony when to came to natural resources. There were also political provisions which were deemed inimical to the issue of sovereignty as the Bangsamoro could actually declare independence from the Republic.

The BBL never stood a chance as the lower house didn’t even manage to hold a vote at the committee level. Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., led the opposition in the Senate and even came up with an alternative proposition which cured the proposed original legislation of its defects. One only has to look at the proximity of Mindanao to the Strait of Malacca in order to appreciate its strategic importance to the US in the event of a conflict with China. There is more than meets the eye in the Marawi incident based on the above context. It could have been a ploy to force the President Duterte’s hand to declare martial law nationwide or a self-coup if he can convince the AFP and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to go along with him. The political opposition can then paint the President as the second coming of Marcos in the hope of scaring the public into submission and get them to switch over to their side again.

Public support for the President persistently remained high and the opposition went on to fail with their plans. What is lamentable is the depths to which vested interests will go to destabilize their own country to oust a legitimately-elected President.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.