Marawi crisis worries Asean neighbours

Asia News Network papers share their concern over troubling developments in Marawi, the Philippines - with regional commentators highlighting concerns about the spread of terrorism, while the Inquirer highlights the humanitarian crisis in the area. Here are excerpts:

Asean's fight against terrorism

The Jakarta Post, Indonesia

Indonesia and Asean members must tighten cooperation in counter-terrorism, following the unrest in Marawi, the Philippines, by a terrorist group loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Whether or not Indonesian nationals are fighting for the terrorist group against the Philippine army in Marawi city in the southern part of our neighbouring country, the danger of a spillover of the conflict into our territory cannot be underestimated.

It is primarily for the sake of our national security, and the stability of the South-east Asian region in general, that Indonesia should not let the Philippines walk alone during a crisis such as this.

Indonesia, which, like the Philippines, has been combating terrorist groups, including those affiliated with ISIS, cannot intervene too far into the Philippines' domestic affairs, but it can initiate regional cooperation under the Asean framework to tackle terrorism threats.

The ISIS, whose stronghold has come under constant attack and is moving closer to defeat, has declared its intention to form an outpost in South-east Asia. The recruitment of hundreds of people from South-east Asia to fight in Syria and Iraq about two years ago; its formation of Katibah Nusantara there; a series of attacks in the southern Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia; and the seizure of the predominantly Muslim city of Marawi are all part of the group's attempt to realise this goal.

A Marawi street seen through a window damaged during fighting between government soldiers and Maute militants last week. The proximity of the crisis there to other countries in the region has raised concerns that the terror scourge could spill over or spread. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Wiranto has said the government is anticipating such a possibility and that Indonesia fully supports Philippine military action against ISIS in Marawi to prevent it from gaining any more ground.

President Rodrigo Duterte has declared 60 days of martial law for all of Mindanao island in the wake of the Marawi crisis. As the city is only five hours by boat from Indonesia's northernmost island of Miangas in North Sulawesi, the rebellion poses a direct threat to Indonesia.

For years, Indonesian terrorists are believed to have travelled to Mindanao either for training or combat experience or to escape from the police.

Both the Indonesian military and police have announced their readiness to deal with any local repercussions from the crackdown on terrorist groups in Marawi, despite the fact that the porous border between Indonesia and the Philippines has allowed terrorists to slip through the fingers of security forces.

More coordinated counter- terrorism cooperation between the two countries is pressing as Marawi is only a trial run, although it may prove to be erroneous, for regional terrorist groups who pledge allegiance to ISIS. As these groups' efforts will not stop in Marawi, a larger scope of cooperation under the Asean counter-terrorism convention is imperative.

Region could be new ISIS base

The Nation, Thailand

As the Philippines grapples with martial law, jihadist militants have emerged uncomfortably close to our own restive South.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte last week declared martial law in Mindanao to quell violence by a militant group in the city of Marawi linked the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The Maute militants - named after a local clan that has become increasingly powerful over the years by taking other extremist groups under its wing - burned down buildings, took hostages and displaced tens of thousands of residents. The government is struggling to regain control of the city in a conflict that has so far cost more than 100 lives.

Islamic preacher Isnilon Hapilon, who is on the United States' most-wanted list, is said to be commanding the militants.

The group pledged its loyalty to ISIS in 2014. Maute began to assert itself locally last year when its militants flew an ISIS flag at a Marawi mosque and ordered the imams to toe the line.

The unavoidable fear in the Mindanao crisis is that the region might become a new base for violent extremists in South-east Asia. The ISIS has after all been weakened in Iraq and Syria after years of confrontation with Western forces.

The Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict warned last year that South-east Asian fighters fleeing the Middle East "could look to Mindanao to provide temporary refuge as they work their way home". It appears that the clashes in Marawi are a sign of further troubles to come.

Thai security officials are frequently on edge about possible Islamic extremists passing through en route to theatres of war or merely biding their time here, laying low.

If the southern Philippines' borders are vulnerable to penetration by extremists, the Thai South offers pockets where outsiders could hide if local insurgent cells and the community give permission. There is no room for complacency.

Pulling together for the displaced

Philippine Daily Inquirer, Philippines

Spare a thought for the suffering people of Marawi, who awoke one morning to find their city under siege, with armed men roaming the streets and grabbing hostages. As gunfire pierced the air, the people cowered indoors, only to be driven out to seek safe grounds when the armed men began setting buildings, schools and homes ablaze, and shooting down civilians.

Given the suddenness of the Maute Group's attack and the immediate escalation of conflict between the gunmen and government troops, the people fled only with the barest essentials. With children in tow and the prospect of walking for hours, they could take along very little, some- times only the clothes on their backs and provisions for the little ones. Easily half of the city's 200,000 residents fled in the following days, on foot and in vehicles stuck in traffic for hours.

As of May 29, according to an update by the group One with Marawi, 67,870 internally displaced persons had streamed into 38 identified evacuation sites. At least 3,717 more remain stranded in some 80 villages.

Relief operations have been organised to extend aid. Early on, volunteers lined the highway to Iligan City to offer food and drink to the famished refugees. Secretary Judy Taguiwalo of the Department of Social Welfare and Development tweeted a personal reminder about donors being sensitive to Islamic culture and the particular needs of Marawi's predominantly Muslim residents.

The Catholic Church and its social-action arms Nassa and Caritas have set up relief stations where people can donate goods or their services in getting assistance to the evacuees.

With their lives upended, the evacuees' most immediate needs are food, clothing and shelter. With the school opening looming, children will also need bags, school supplies, shoes and uniforms. Nourishing meals are a must as well, as are medications for primary healthcare.

Local government units have joined the relief efforts, including the local chapter of the National Movement of Young Legislators in Laoag City, which is hosting a benefit gala on June 20 to raise money for the displaced families of Marawi.

A fund-raising drive by members of the House of Representatives is likewise welcome, as Filipinos pull together to come to the aid of the displaced people of Marawi.

  • The View From Asia is a compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner, Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 news media entities. For more, see
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 03, 2017, with the headline 'Marawi crisis worries Asean neighbours'. Print Edition | Subscribe