Marawi crisis casts damper on Duterte SONA

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 20 2017 06:19 PM | Updated as of Jul 24 2017 03:15 PM

Marawi crisis casts damper on Duterte SONA 1
A view of Marawi City as it burns amidst air strikes as seen from Lake Lanao on July 11, 2017. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - The ongoing fighting between government forces and Islamic State-inspired extremists in the south casts a pall over President Rodrigo Duterte's second congressional address where he is expected to report about the gains of his populist agenda the past year.

Faced with the biggest crisis of his administration, Duterte must outline a solid agenda to rebuild Marawi City and defeat violent extremists, Mindanao policy experts said.

Local terrorists pledging allegiance to ISIS or the Islamic State wreaked havoc in the city in a grim reminder of another serious threat confronting Duterte's administration other than illegal drugs.

The President's martial law declaration in Mindanao received wide public support, but triggered unease among human rights groups.

The court upheld his 60-day martial rule, which ends two days before he delivers his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 24.

But Duterte is asking Congress to extend it until the end of the year, claiming terrorists were planning similar attacks elsewhere in Mindanao. 

"I would say that is a major crisis because that led to the declaration of martial law in Mindanao," Communications Secretary Martin Andanar told ABS-CBN News.

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Research by Patrick Quintos, ABS-CBN News; Infographic by Angela Salano, ABS-CBN News

The Marawi conflict is expected to top Duterte's SONA agenda as thousands of residents displaced by the fighting await details of the government's P20-billion rehabilitation plan.

"Marawi is a special place and we cannot afford to make that a permanent refugee camp," said Mindanao-born lawyer Tony La Viña, former dean of the Ateneo School of Government.

In nearly two months of fighting, the government's response to the crisis still lacked a "well-thought-of strategic plan," said Benedicto Bacani, head of the Cotobato-based think-tank Institute for Autonomy and Governance.


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President Duterte is briefed by Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Año on the developments in Marawi City during a crisis meeting in Davao City on May 29, 2017. Malacañang Photo

Since last year, Duterte had been warning of the growing ISIS threat. But security forces still appeared to have been caught unaware by the scale of the Marawi attack by Maute and Abu Sayyaf terrorists on May 23. 

"It's just a challenge to him that he did not anticipate," La Viña said. 

Murad Ebrahim, chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), urged the president to "push hard" for the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in his SONA.

The law will implement a 2014 peace agreement with the largest Muslim rebel group in the country by establishing a new territory for the Bangsamoro in Mindanao.

Murad said a "political settlement acceptable to the Bangsamoro people" would "counter the ongoing radicalization, especially among the youth."

"I hope he would not only mention it. He would ask, even demand its enactment," La Viña said, referring to the BBL.


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A portion of Marawi City lies in ruins as clashes continue between government troops and the Maute Group more than a month after the fighting started. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News

La Viña said the upcoming SONA should include a clear legislative agenda, unlike the President's first congressional address, which was about 100-minutes and more than 9,400 words long.

That speech focused on how Duterte planned to deliver on campaign promises such as better infrastructure, social services, and peace and order.

"We were coming from a successful campaign," Andanar said. "But right now, we know that a lot of those promises have already been delivered by this administration, overwhelmingly."

Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Manila-based Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, said the president should now deliver "more of a sober assessment of what he can or he cannot do."

"If he does that, then what we would have is a presentation of a road map, maybe for the rest of his term," he told ABS-CBN News.


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President Duterte interacts with evacuees from Marawi City during a visit in Iligan City. The Duterte administration faces a crisis involving thousands displaced by the war in Marawi. Ace Morandante, Malacañang Photo

Duterte has been criticized for focusing too much on his war on drugs while supposedly overlooking other aspects of governance.

His first SONA produced no subsequent technical report, which would have outlined how the government intended to deliver on each of his promises.

This year, Malacañang will release such a document to be called "President's Report to the People," a more understandable version of the technical report, said Communications Assistant Secretary Kris Ablan.

La Viña urged the president to "lessen the talk if they cannot support it with actions" in his next SONA.

"He needs to act more as president than mayor," he said.