Why It Matters

Rebuilding next for Marawi

In a rousing speech inside a rain-soaked gym on Tuesday, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte declared that Marawi city - torn apart by more than four months of war waged by ISIS-inspired militants - had finally been "liberated".

That might have been a hasty declaration. As he spoke, sounds of gunfire and explosions could be heard from a distance as security forces continued to battle a pocket of militants still entrenched in the heart of the city.

But it will be an unambiguous victory. The war, which began when hundreds of militants stormed the city on May 23 in an audacious bid to turn it into a "province" of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), could have ended with the men who plotted the carnage escaping and living to fight another day. Instead, all but one are dead.

On Tuesday, Philippine army teams of Scout Rangers and light reaction troops killed Isnilon Hapilon, ISIS' top man in South-east Asia, and Omarkhayam Maute, the last of the dreaded brothers who formed the group that supplied the bulk of the fighters for the Marawi siege.

The deaths marked a symbolic end to a long-drawn-out conflict that has cost more than 1,000 lives and displaced about 400,000.

The Philippines was never alone in this. Help came from everywhere.

The Americans sent troops who assisted with surveillance. The Chinese sent assault rifles. Malaysia and Indonesia, themselves beset by extremism, helped the Philippines patrol its porous borders. Singapore offered urban warfare training.

The Philippines will have to keep on leaning on its friends.

The fighting will likely be over this week. The government will soon be rebuilding roads, bridges and public utilities. Marawi's displaced population of more than 200,000 will be returning home.

The mistrust and division that the conflict has sprung, however, will take far longer to fix.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2017, with the headline 'Rebuilding next for Marawi'. Print Edition | Subscribe