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Cotabato City unlikely to be ‘the next Marawi,’ says peace NGO

The possibility of Cotabato City being "the next" Marawi City is unlikely, as the Maute group would not be able to easily mobilize there due in part to the city's more diverse population, a non-government organization said Wednesday.

At the launch of International Alert Philippines' Conflict Alert 2017 report "Guns, Drugs, and Extremism: Bangsamoro's New Wars," country manager Francisco "Pancho" Lara, Jr. said that Cotabato City is a "totally different ball game" from Marawi City.

"First of all, we do not think that they will be able to mobilize the same numbers that quickly after the setback in Marawi. It may happen—and I'm not only talking about Cotabato, it might happen elsewhere, but it will take some time to build up those resources," Lara said.

Armed Forces of the Philippines Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez Jr. earlier said that they are looking at the possibility of Cotabato City becoming the next target of the Maute terrorists.

Lara said, however, that they do not believe that the Maute group will move on to attack another urban area as their next step.

"The first tactical shift was the movement away from the islands. The second tactical shift was the movement away from rural municipalities to urban municipalities. We don't think that the third tactical shift will mean that they will move now to other urban areas yet," Lara said.

The group's "third tactical shift," Lara  continued, would be to broker new alliances with other groups frustrated over the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

"If you're asking me whether it will happen, there's so many conditions that will make it difficult that will happen in Cotabato," he said.

"It's not easy to destroy Cotabato. Cotabato has different ethnic groups there, it's almost like saying will the government destroy a place where you have a sizable mix of different ethnicities, in contrast to Marawi? So there's so many factors acting against the possibility of moving in Cotabato," he added.

The BBL, if enacted, would create a new autonomous political entity as the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region. It was meant to be the legal framework forged between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front under the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III.

The proposal, however, failed to get the approval of Congress in the aftermath of the Mamasapano clash in January 2015, which killed 44 Special Action Force troopers.

Lara said that what would most likely to happen is that terrorists might continue to do what they did in the early stages of 2016: carry out kidnappings and skirmishes and detonate improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Lara added that while it would currently be very difficult for the Maute group to lay siege to other areas the way they did in Marawi, it might be feasible in the future if they get a broader alliance to support them.

"There might be some skirmishes, but they will not approach we think the level that was in Marawi. In fact, right now I've heard that what alarms the military is the nature of a roving, moving group rather than a Marawi-type of operation," Lara said.

"So what we should be looking at is the type of operation that they mounted for... It may be difficult to mount the same operations in the near future, but given some time in the future, given that they were able to broker a broader alliance to support them then they may attempt Marawi type of operations," he added.

President Rodrigo Duterte declared the liberation of Marawi last October 17, a day after the killing of terror group leaders Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute.

As of October 17, a total of 847 Maute members, 163 government troops, and 47 civilians have been killed. A total of 1,770 civilians have been rescued while 846 firearms have been recovered. — BM, GMA News