MANILA - For this military official, the "real challenge" in Marawi City began when the fighting had ceased.
Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. underscored the importance of building back Marawi City and stopping radicalization in the wake of the five-month battle that ravaged the Islamic city.
"The battle doesn’t end in the main battle area. I have always kept in mind, the real challenge in this crisis starts when the firing stops," said Galvez at a recent forum on violent extremism organized by the Eisenhower Fellows Philippines in Makati City.
Barely a month since the conflict ended, locals are slowly returning to their now-shattered homes, facing a long road to recovery from the worst urban war the Philippines has experienced in recent memory.
Galvez, one of the most battle-tested officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, recalled how a fellow commander visited him in Zamboanga City in August and gave him a "very personal advice."
"Do not mess up with rehabilitation," Galvez recalled being told.
"And so even when our troops are still in the thick of battle, I was already planning on how to support the rehabilitation of Marawi City," he said.
The Marawi siege ended on Oct. 23, leaving over a thousand people dead, mostly terrorists, and hundreds of thousands displaced.
The government has earmarked an initial P5 billion for the early recovery phase of Marawi City this year.
Another P10 billion will be released in 2018 and P5 billion in 2019 for the full rehabilitation of the Islamic city.
Galvez warned that just as government efforts to rehabilitate Marawi City are underway, Islamic State-linked terrorists continue recruitment efforts.
"Security is a shared responsibility. It needs sustainment of partnership between the different stakeholders in the security sector, the local government units, the academe and religious sectors, and other stakeholders to defeat the threat of terrorism in southern Philippines," he said.
The military official called for the standardization of Islamic teachings to conform with the "traditional and acceptable Islam way of life" and to counter radicalization.
"The narrative of Marawi siege shall be taught to our children that ISIS violent extremism will bring forth massive destruction, brutal deaths and great misery to our people," he said.
Galvez cited the need to revitalize local religious councils where a local government support system is defined. He also said the Mindanao State University should be "reorganized" to counteract ISIS recruitment among the youth and students.
"There is a need to unite all our efforts to win the war against Islamic extremism and terrorism in our region. We must condemn all terror actions of international and local terrorist groups," he said.
"There is no substitute for peace…and peace is only possible if there is unity and harmony," he added.