You’d need a heart of stone not to pity President Duterte right now — he’s fighting three wars, and he can’t possibly win any of them.
First, there’s his war on drugs. As numerous experts, diplomats and former heads of state have told him, as soon as you call this a ‘war’ you’ve already lost. That’s not just my opinion, it’s historical fact.
Then, there’s the recent abandonment of peace talks with the communists. Quite justifiably, I think, the president has responded to their decision to increase attacks in response to martial law by saying: “No more talk, let’s fight!”
He’s been very patient so far, and fought his election on a clear policy: As a self-described “leftist”, who was tutored by commie-in-chief Jose Sison at university, he held out his hand to the rebels, even stuffing his cabinet with Maoists and promising to implement the changes they seek.
However, his open hand has been met with a clenched fist. Whatever anybody’s view on martial law, having the Islamic State seeking a stronghold in your country is a bigger worry. This should have been a time for the reds to step down, and perhaps even offer assistance to government forces. They could even have used such a sensible approach as a lever in future peace talks.
But no, instead they doubled down on their attacks, even targeting a convoy of the Presidential Security Group — part of the “fascist” armed forces that has never previously engaged with the New People’s Army.
So, the 50-year insurgency looks set to continue, perhaps another half century. The president tried his best to win the peace by holding out an olive branch, but it was just thrown back in his face.
Now both of those two wars are a walk in the park when it comes to the latest incarnation of the centuries-old Muslim insurgency in Minanao.
Many are questioning why the armed forces are still struggling to liberate Marawi two months after domestic militants and foreign jihadis first unfurled the black flag of IS over the city.
Sure, it could have been done in days. Simply order a full evacuation of civilians, then bomb it into rubble. Job done, right?
Well, no. That would just sow dragon’s teeth into the rich soil of Muslim resentment. The military offensive has been hugely hampered by a determination not to destroy the city’s mosques and other holy places — even though these are known to be deadly nests for snipers.
Already, the damage done by aerial bombardment is being exploited by islamists — and is certain to take root in the minds of at least some of the estimated half a million (mainly Muslim) people displaced by the conflict.
As reported here this week, counter-terrorism experts have warned that the protracted nature of the siege is inspiring other would-be jihadists and, increasingly, making folk-heroes of the Maute and Abu Sayyaf terrorists holding out in the city. So it’s a classic lose-lose situation.
Even government assistance for the evacuees is having a negative effect. Whether true or otherwise, reports are circulating that they are being given non-halal food aid.
Not only this, but some monumentally stupid Christian evangelists have been handing out “hygiene kits” — complete with Bibles translated into the local language.
It’s not difficult to understand how a Moro person, with the long heritage of resisting “Crusaders” and limited information via their social media bubble, could easily be radicalised.
And, yes, it is happening, as we reported here yesterday.
So what can the president possibly do to win this war? If he goes in hard, he loses. If he takes a slow and steady surgical approach, he loses. Either way, islamist keyboard warriors will reap a harvest of radicalised Muslims ready to join the cause.
So, what can he do?
Of course! Follow through with his long-held promise to promote a fully autonomous ‘Bangsamoro’ region. A new self-governing homeland for Muslim Filipinos. And that’s what he’s done this week.
At least then the drug dealers, communists and Islamic fanatics will be somebody else’s problem… at least for the time being…