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Marawi on my mind

By: Atty. Ignacio R. Bunye

Years ago, I used to go to the jai alai fronton on Taft Avenue. Clearly emblazoned in the fronton wall were the words: “El fallo del juez es inapelable.” Translation: “Pag sinabi ng referee, tapos.”

The final referee on legal matters, the Supreme Court, has spoken. Given the overwhelming vote in favor of the declaration of martial law in Mindanao, maybe it is time for those against martial law (ML) to just accept the SC decision and move on.

To paraphrase the SC decision, penned by Associate Justice Mariano C. Del Castillo, martial law is a tool of the state to defend itself from internal and external threats. In the present case, the SC found sufficient factual basis that such threats exist. The only difference is that 11 justices agreed with ML imposition for the whole of Mindanao while 3 decided that ML should be confined only to a specific geographic location. Curiously, one associate justice saw no threat at all!

The SC brushed aside deep-rooted fears and apprehensions of ML because it had been abused in the past. Most observers tend to agree considering the big difference between ML 1972 and ML under the 1987 constitution.

My own gut feel is that an overwhelming majority of Filipinos support the declaration of martial law as necessary.

But at the same time, everybody yearns for an early termination of hostilities, the lifting of martial law, and immediate return of Marawi to normalcy.

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Watching tv clips of aerial bombardments in Marawi city, one can not help but draw comparisons between the present day scene and those which took place in Manila 72 years ago.

For one whole month in February 1945, allied forces tried to retake Manila from around 16,000 Japanese troops which decided to make their last stand. In the final days of the Battle of Manila, the Japanese troops were concentrated in such land marks as Intramuros, City Hall, Legislative Building, Agriculture Building and Finance Building.

Conscious of the cultural value of the land marks, Gen. McArthur was initially reluctant to bombard the Japanese strongholds. But as allied casualties began to mount, McArthur reluctantly gave the go-signal to pull all the stops.

Here is an account by a military historian of how allied troops re-took the Agriculture Building where Admiral Iwabuchi, the Japanese commander, was supposedly holed out.

“On February 28, the regiment returned to the Agriculture Building with a three-hour artillery preparation. Point-blank 155mm howitzer fires alternated with point-blank tank and tank-destroyer fires….. Much of the Agriculture Building thus pancaked on its own first floor, and the 5th Cavalry Regiment assaulted into what was left.”

The firepower brought to bear on the Agriculture Building and other Japanese strongholds, coupled with the fires initiated by the Japanese soldiers, devastated much of Manila.

Military historians describe the war-time destruction of Manila as next only to that of Warsaw, Poland.

* * *

So many soldiers and policemen have already heroically died to retake Marawi City. That is why I share the sentiment of Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Marawi officials against the assignment of police scalawags in Marawi City as a form of punishment.

Marawi City is where you send the best and the bravest of our troops. It is not supposed to be a dumping ground of misfits.

Perhaps, PNP Chief Bato de la Rosa has so many other things in his mind right now that he overlooked the sensitivities of this decision.

* * *

There are many heartwarming stories that continue to emerge from the rubbles of Marawi.

There is the story of Muslims hiding/protecting non-Muslims, even teaching them verses in the Koran, in order to help the latter avoid detection by Maute terrorists.

There is the young army officer who recovered millions in cash from a suspected Maute hideout. He immediately turned over the cash to his superiors. Sadly, the young officer died during fighting the next day.

There are stories of journalists braving bullets and rocket fire to bring the story more accurately to the Filipino people.

One poignant story tells of a husband who tried to save his wife who got isolated in Maute-held territory. Several times he went to the danger zone, with only a plastic bag containing bottled water and a ripe banana. “She must be very thirsty and hungry,” he told a television crew. Finally, he found his wife (wounded and dehydrated) and brought her back to a safe zone.

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