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Uniting to fight a foreign force

The attack on Marawi City by the Maute Group was deemed an act of rebellion, for which President Duterte proclaimed martial law in Mindanao. After several days of fighting, the Maute remained entrenched in some parts of the city, including the Marawi City Jail and the nearby Malabang District Jail.

The people of Mindanao have long suffered from violence like the attack on Marawi City. The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) raided Zamboanga City in 2013. The Mamasapano massacre in 2015 involved fighting men of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Smaller groups like the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters have carried out attacks on more remote areas of the region. And there is the Abu Sayyaf, which has specialized in holding hostages for ransom, beheading several foreign victims who were not able to pay the demanded ransom.

What has distinguished the Marawi City raid by the Maute, which caused President Duterte to declare martial law was a new element – the foreign influence of the international terrorist organization variously known as Islamic State (IS) and Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). In the Marawi attack were foreign fighters – from Malaysia and Indonesia – and possibly Arabs from the Middle East, according to local residents. The Maute and foreign fighters were said to be inspired by the radical ISIS movement, whose black flag they carried.

Most of the Muslim world has rejected the extremism of ISIS which seeks to establish a worldwide caliphate. The ISIS fighters are losing their hold in the Middle East, opposed by the Islamic governments of Syria and Iraq. They are about to be driven from the northern Iraq city of Mosul by combined forces of the Iraqi army, Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish militias, and American troops. The attack on Marawi City seems to indicate that they are seeking newer ground – in Southeast Asia, in Mindanao.

President Duterte has called on the MILF, the MNLF, and even the NPA to help the government in fighting the ISIS move to establish a foothold in Mindanao. Nur Misuari, founding chairman of the MNLF, has sent him a letter offering to help end the crisis in Marawi City.

These armed groups have long fought the government for their various causes, mostly political and economic reforms, but the President believes they are one in being Filipinos and in opposing a foreign force such as ISIS.