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Did drugs fuel Marawi war?

Macabangkit B. Lanto



I just cannot get over it. I thought I could dismiss it as something de minimis (lawyers lingo), undeserving much attention, nay, discussion. But I couldn’t shake it off. Perhaps because of my traumatic experience as a victim of the Marawi war that it keeps haunting me.

“Was the military operation launched not only to hunt and extricate the extremist mujahideens but also to smoke out drug lords supporting the rebels?

I refer to the casual reference of President Digong to the Marawi siege and illegal drugs at the first phase of his recent State of the Nation Address (SoNA). I describe it as casual because it is not part of the major policy statements or directions in his speech.

The transcript of the speech reads: “During that Marawi siege, tons of shabu worth millions and millions of pesos. Drug money killed 175 and wounded (2,101) of my soldiers and policemen in that five-month battle.”

Readers, it is a tradition of Congress to extend courtesy invitation to its former members every SoNA. But despite inclement weather and horrendous traffic, I attended, full of hope, that the President will say something about calibrating or expediting the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Marawi and a call for national departments, especially the Department of Budget and Management, to extend much needed support to the infant Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao get its feet off the ground. These are issues close to our hearts down south. I hang on to every word Digong said. My mind was not prepared for what I heard. I thought it was one of those off-the-cuff remarks deviating from the script because it tends to trivialize the magnitude of the destruction and agony of “bakwits.”

What did the President mean by those statements? Was it an expression of pain for the loss of soldiers and policemen? My mind went overdrive trying to read between the lines over what he meant.

What is the nexus between the war and illegal drugs? Initially, I simply reasoned out rather naively that the jihadists get their “high” from the opiate, that “they look into the barrel of their gun and see paradise” and become suicidal. Some netizens commented that this will desecrate the memory of few ideologue mujahideens who gave their life for a cause, never mind that they are adherents and evangelists of false Islam. To them, residents say: They can rot in “naraka jiahannam” (hell)!

Did the President mean that illegal drug money bankrolled the siege? Was the military operation launched not only to hunt and extricate the extremist mujahideens but also to smoke out drug lords supporting the rebels? These questions preoccupied Maranaws and netizens who resorted to social media to express their reservation, if not protest.

I have heard and read enough media narratives on the whys and hows of the Marawi war. Or so, I thought. But the revelation of Digong provided a new dimension and food for discussion for analysts of the crisis. It has debunked previous notions of the war being purely religious, i.e., to establish a “wilayat,” if not a caliphate. It has tainted in a way the jihad because true Islam classifies illegal drugs as “haram” or taboo.

True, in the police raid of suspected houses of political leaders suspected of involvement in the siege, there were evidences of illegal drugs found. This led to the filing of cases, incarceration of some and fugitive life to others who were included in the order of arrest issued by the Secretary of National Defense as the martial law implementor. But nothing much came out of it. One prominent leader was granted bail, although the crime was nonbailable, while others were allegedly able to explain their cases and their names stricken off the list of arrest order. Some netizens observed it was kid gloves treatment not commensurate to the gravity of the tragedy.

This conundrum has given validity to the persistent plea of Marawi victims for a congressional investigation or any kind of inquiry to get into the roots and circumstances of the war. This might answer critics assailing the morality of the government’s strategy of “burning a house to kill a rat.”

The menace of violent extremism is far from being plateaued and is growing exponentially. Policy makers should refocus on the problem to avoid the recurrence of s surprise when it hits us again.