Alamon: Proximity and attrition

A FORTNIGHT ago, an alarming piece of news was reported by government officials conducting relief and psychosocial intervention for displaced Maranao children in Iligan City.

Some children in the evacuation centers, instead of pointing to athletes or actors, disclosed that they aspire to become members of the Maute group when they grow up. Their reasons include receiving food from the terror group and that they have seen their fathers receive money from them. Whereas, it is their impression that they have not received any form of aid from government.

It came as a shock to many, mostly from government and the dominant Christian population, most of whom have thrown their support for the strong military response and the declaration and extension of martial law by the Duterte administration.

How could the young Maranaos even think about aspiring to become a member of the Islamic State-aligned terror group when they were the cause of the destruction of their homes and community in the first place, they ask?

This attitude is not altogether different from the reactions of many who could not believe the belligerence of Maranao groups when they demand a stop to the aerial bombings and a return to their devastated community since the area remains dangerous with the presence of combatants from both sides.

It is the same as the incredulous stance taken by many who are shocked by the accusations of looting leveled against soldiers who, to their mind, are sacrificing their lives liberating the city of Marawi from the terror group. How could they be so ungrateful of the soldier’s sacrifices, they complain?

What accounts for these differences in perceptions and attitudes among supporters of government and the increasingly restless dispositions of the displaced Maranaos? Why is there a palpable shift in the feelings of the displaced population, the tenor of which seem to be turning away from government support that they initially granted in the first weeks of the siege? I believe there are two factors that must be considered in trying to make sense of this unfolding fall out – proximity and attrition.

On the issue of proximity, it is easy to see that most of those who harbor these attitudes of incredulity to the uneasy Maranao standing as of the moment are those who are not directly affected by the conflict.

Most of them are either safely ensconced in nearby Cagayan de Oro or Iligan. A possible source of their negative regard for the displaced Maranaos is because they have been inconvenienced by the strict checkpoints and sudden influx of new residents that have affected the volume of traffic.

Hundreds of thousands of Marawi residents descended to the small city of Iligan and nearby Cagayan de Oro and there are many occasions for dormant social frictions to be ignited.

Those who have been merely inconvenienced unfortunately do not understand how it is to lose one’s livelihood and belongings in an instant. It is a reality that hundreds of thousands of Maranaos now collectively face and it is easy to galvanize shared feelings of persecution and discrimination especially since there is a history to this kind of oppression of the Maranaos under the hands of a forceful Philippine nation-state.

The dominant Christian population cannot feel what the Maranaos are feeling since there are barriers both symbolic and physical that separate the experiences of the two peoples. The checkpoints is an example of a type of a physical and symbolic barrier that keep out the Maranaos and the dangers they supposedly bring whilst protecting the safety and security of the residents of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro.

These feelings of heightened discrimination and persecution is not just a function of the direct experiences of the Maranaos to the conflict - that is their proximity to the war as direct victims vis-à-vis the detached onlookers from Cagayan de Oro and Iligan. But also increases in degree and impact as the situation drags on indefinitely. There is a threshold to what a people can endure in public and home-based evacuation centers and these shifts in attitude are indications that the limit for many of these people has been breached.

It is also a war of attrition between government and the Maute terror group who have lain siege to Marawi. The longer the city is not cleared of the presence of terror groups, the higher the tendency for erstwhile supportive attitudes towards government to be converted to hostility as the economic and social costs of the extended conflict pile up.

These twin factors of proximity and attrition define the post-siege scenario actually. The social inertia among displaced Maranaos is really moving towards a critical and even hostile attitude against government now that Marawi lay in ruins. What was it that was said about winning the battle but losing the war?


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