the recent battle for the city of Marawi on Mindanao Island in the
Southern Philippines, the Western media has been grossly exaggerating
unconfirmed reports and rumors. It has been spreading twisted
information and ‘facts’.
the beginning of July, I visited Mindanao as one of only a few
foreigners allowed inside the besieged city of Marawi and to its
Rey, head of Joint-Task-Force, Ranao (Photo: Andre Vltchek)
spoke to local people, to the IDPs – those who managed to escape
the city taken over by the jihadists. I also managed to discuss the
situation with the highest commanders of the military in charge of
the combat, including General
Ramiro Rey and Lt.
Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera.
I encountered many soldiers, civil servants, and relief workers.
contacts in the capital informed me via text messages that I had been
“red-flagged,” clearly, by the pro-US faction in the Philippine
military. So before my presence was finally cleared from Manila, I
was detained and held in a provisional military base in the city of
Saguiaran. Here I was “softly” interrogated by military
intelligence. A few steps away, a howitzer was firing artillery
toward ISIS positions in Marawi, some 10 kilometers distant.
ground-zero. (Photo: Andre Vltchek)
you believe the United States is responsible for spreading terrorism
all over the world,” I was asked late at night by one of the
officers, point blank, while local starlet was imitating old Chuck
Berry’s hit “Johnny
B. Goode” on
TV, sound blasted all over the barracks. It was clear that someone
‘behind the scenes’ was busy studying my published work.
Western establishment media and various servile NGOs (including those
which are “defending human rights” in several rebellious and
independent-minded countries) consistently demonize President
Duterte, an anti-imperialist, progressive leader who enjoys well over
80 percent approval rating. It is no secret in the Philippines there
are two distinct factions inside the military – one supports the
president and his drive for independence from the West. The other,
which is trained and often corrupted by Washington and other Western
capitals, would love to see him go.
pro-Western fraction obviously wanted me out, detained, perhaps even
disappeared. The other one that stands by its president wanted me to
see the truth, even to be allowed into Marawi.
final decision was made late at night in Manila. I was released and
granted permission to work in the besieged city. But even when the
top commanders personally called the camp, there was, at least for a
while, apparent reluctance to let me go.
first reaction after visiting the Marawi front was one of shock and
outrage. What I witnessed was fundamentally different from what has
repeatedly been said by most of the Western mass media outlets, as
well as pro-Western local news channels broadcasting from Manila.
is evident, right from the start, that Marawi is not “totally
destroyed,” as has been reported. Most of it is standing and
standing firm. I would estimate that only between 20 and 30 percent
of the houses and buildings, (most of them in the wealthy core center
of the city) have sustained heavy damage.
through Marawi ( Photo: Andre Vltchek )
was explained to me during the presentation by top army commanders
that the ISIS-related jihadists began their offensive on May 23rd
2017 and their plan was to take full control of the town by the time
Ramadan was to begin (May 26th). The military spoiled their plans; it
counter-attacked and managed to contain the terrorists in just one
neighborhood, retaining or regaining control of all the other
City and its people ( Photo: Andre Vltchek )
there were heavy losses, and, because of the palpable sense of fear
after tremendous brutality unleashed by the terrorists, a substantial
movement of IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons). But it was
never 400,000 people escaping the area, as reported in the West, but
approximately 200,000 (the number once peaked at about 300,000 for a
has been no “indiscriminate bombing” of the civilians. I
witnessed both incoming and outgoing howitzer fire and also very
limited bombing from the air; it was all targeted and mostly precise,
aiming at the position of the terrorists. As in all other war zones
where I have been working, I refused any protection, including
helmets and bulletproof vests. That allowed me to remain more mobile.
I did manage to come ‘very close’ to the front. It was clear the
fighting and bombing were strictly contained to one area, no more
than one-kilometer square. Even there, the mosques and almost all
other buildings and houses were still standing, as is demonstrated on
NGOs and many Western governments claim that they ‘worry’ about
the martial law imposed on Mindanao Island. I was told that in and
around Marawi (or anywhere else on the Island), the martial law
carried no brutal consequences. Even the curfew (9PM-5AM) is laxly
General Ramiro Rey (head of the Joint Task Force Group, Ranao)
explained to me in Marawi City:
difference between this martial law and those that were imposed
during the reign of Ferdinand Marcos is that now the military is
mainly doing real fighting while providing assistance to the
civilians. I absolutely don’t interfere with the work of local
elected government officials. I’m actually encouraging them to do
their job as before, asking them to contact me only when my
assistance is needed. I never took, and I don’t intend to take,
control of the area.”
government officials and volunteers working for various relief
agencies and NGO’s operating in the area have confirmed what
General Rey said.
lady in Marawi City. ( Photo: Andre Vltchek )
my work in the conflict zone, I detected no fear among the residents.
The relationship between the army and civilians was clearly friendly
and cordial. As the military convoys were moving between the cities
of Illigan and Marawi, both children and adults were smiling, waving,
some cheering the soldiers.
the camps housing the IDPs, there was almost unanimous consensus:
while many citizens of Mindanao Island in general and the Marawi area
in particular would most likely welcome more autonomy from Manila,
during this ongoing and brutal conflict almost all local people have
been supportive of the military and government efforts.
hope that both Filipino and foreign jihadi cadres would soon be
an almost unanimous statement coming from the local people.
preparing to head to the front. ( Photo: Andre Vltchek )
the cities of Illigan and Marawi I was shown detailed maps clearly
indicating positions of the ISIS and the military.
Lt. Colonel Jun Abad from Ranao Camp and the commanding officer,
General Rey, gave me a clear and detailed briefing. As of July 3rd,
the Agus River represented the ‘borderline’ between the ISIS-held
area and the zone liberated and controlled by the army.
Rey explained during our meeting in the Municipality of Marawi City
(now the complex is also serving as the headquarters of the war
ISIS wants to establish their state on the island of Mindanao – an
Islamic caliphate – right here in the Province of Lanao del Sur.”
Rey updating. ( Photo: Andre Vltchek)
that’s not what the majority of local people want. Before President
Duterte came to power little over one year ago, social situation in
many parts of Mindanao was desperate and therefore there was at least
some support for radical ‘solutions’. Since then, however, things
changed dramatically. Healthcare, education and public housing are
improving. Indiscriminate mining by multi-national companies has been
deterred. People here; as well as in almost all other parts of the
Philippines finally feel hopeful and optimistic about their future.
converts into great support for both the government and the military.
is no doubt the entire city will be freed, soon, most likely in July
The only reason why it did not happen yet is that the
terrorists are using hostages, both Christians and Muslims, as human
shields. President Duterte, General Rey, and other civilian and
military officials are trying to avoid unnecessary human loses.
topography’ of the area is also very complex. Near the front line I
was told by one of the top commanding army officers:
could take the city in just one day, but there would be great
civilian casualties. The houses in this area are very sturdy; they
are 2-3 stories high and fortified, as there are constant and brutal
family feuds, called’ rido’, raging here, and have been for
to delay the liberation of Marawi is also very dangerous.
Malvin Ligutan. ( Photo: Andre Vltchek )
terrorists began using captured women as sex slaves,”
standing in front of a temporary military base in Saguiaran.
all the horrors of the Marawi war, the army refused to use brutal
tactics, even after it found out that various local citizens clearly
miscalculated and before the conflict began, offered substantial
support to the ISIS-related terrorists.
John Mark Silva Onipig clarified:
people belonging to the ISIS are not only terrorists, but they are
also criminals. They were dealing in drugs… And some local people
knew that… Actually, locals knew quite a lot; they knew about the
presence of the terrorists in the area long before all this started,
but they never reported it to the authorities.”
did the terrorists get hold of so many weapons?” I wanted to know.
the Philippines, those who have money can buy as many weapons as they
want on the black market.”
situation is extremely sensitive as there is clearly the involvement
of foreign fighters. On June 30th, in Saguiaran, Major Malvin Ligutan
one of the safe houses, we found passports issued in Indonesia,
Malaysia and several Arab countries.”
month ago I wrote an essay exposing the complex network of
Western-sponsored terrorism in Asia (“Washington
Jihad Express: Indonesia, Afghanistan, Syria and Philippines”).
I argued that in the 1980’s, Indonesian and Malaysian jihadists,
indoctrinated by the Southeast Asian brand of extreme anti-Communism,
went to fight in Afghanistan against the socialist governments of
Karmal, and then Mohammad Najibullah, with the ultimate goal of
destroying the Soviet Union.
and further brainwashed, they returned home to Southeast Asia,
participated in several ethnic strives and pogroms (including those
in Ambon and Poso), and then, in order to ‘bridge the generational
gap’, embarked on the coaching of a young generation of terrorists,
who eventually ended up fighting in Syria and recently in the
essay was full of facts, and I put into it various testimonies of
Southeast Asian academics, thinkers, and even of one active and
prominent ‘jihadi cadre’ who is now living in Jakarta.
Iman Soleh ( Photo: Andre Vltchek )
the Indonesian city of Bandung, Prof. Iman
a professor at the Faculty of Social and Political Science
(University of Padjadjaran- UNPAD) offered his take on why the West
is now so obsessed with destabilizing and smearing the Philippines
and its current rebellious administration:
World War Two, the U.S. was afraid of so-called ‘domino effects’.
Among other things that are now happening in the Philippines under
president Duterte, the government is curbing activities of the
multi-national mining conglomerates, and the West cannot accept that.
Philippines are putting its environmental concerns above the
short-term profits! For the millions of left-wing activists here in
Indonesia and all over Southeast Asia, President Duterte is a role
is no secret that the West punishes such ‘bad paradigms’ brutally
think all that is happening is not just to ‘destabilize’ the
Philippines, but also because the country has conflict areas that
could be ‘nurtured’. The best example is the predominantly Muslim
island of Mindanao, vs. the rest of the Philippines, which is
predominantly a Catholic country…”
West is regularly using ‘jihad,’ directly and indirectly, to
destabilize socialist, anti-imperialist, and just patriotic countries
and governments. In the past, it managed to ruin countries like
Afghanistan, Indonesia (1965) and Syria. Many believe that the
Philippines is the latest addition to the ‘hit-list.’
China & Russia Connection
a prominent Philippine journalist, educator and pro-Duterte activist,
originally from Mindanao, explained:
reason why the West is hostile toward President Duterte is simple: he
is working hard to reach a peace agreement with China, a country that
is seen by Washington as its arch-enemy. Another ‘adversary of the
West,’ Russia, is admired by Duterte and increasingly by his
people. Recently, Russia and the Philippines signed a defense
agreement. The president is also forging close ties with Cuba,
particularly in the area of health… Before Duterte became our
President, poverty by design in Philippines was restored and
perpetuated by the U.S. and Malaysia-controlled Cojuangco-Aquino can.
and local entities that have long benefited financially from
Philippines being a weak state are now threatened overwhelmingly by
President Duterte’s unifying agenda to create a socialist system in
Toledo pointed her accusative finger at Malaysia:
benefits from Mindanao being in a perpetual state of chaos and
conflict because this means we can never reclaim oil-rich Sabah.”
also doesn’t spare Indonesia and its sinister political
(anti-socialist and anti-Communist) as well as economic interests:
exposed by Rigoberto D. Tiglao, a Filipino diplomat and writer,
Indonesian magnate Anthoni Salim, not only does have total control or
substantial stakes in local mainstream media papers and networks, his
conglomerate in Philippines is also based on telecoms, power, water
distribution, and other public utilities.”
more precisely: it is based on making sure that ‘public utilities’
will never become truly ‘public’, remaining in private hands.
Salim’s ‘empire’ already brought great damage to India,
particularly to West Bengal where, some argue, because of allowing it
to operate and to implement its brutal feudal-capitalist practices,
the CPI (M) (Communist Party of India – Marxist) managed to
thoroughly disgust local voters and to lose power.
( Photo: Andre Vltchek )
could deny the gravity of the situation.
witnessed exhausted glances of the people from Marawi, now living in
a rescue center built on the land of the town hall of Saguiaran.
two infants died,” I’m
told by Amer
a student volunteer from Mindanao State University (MSU).
reason was “different
water, malnutrition, exhaustion…”
wanted to know more, and Amer continues:
are still in shock… They can’t believe what is happening.
Especially those whose houses were destroyed; those who lost their
the West is constantly criticizing, does it provide help? Amer just
shrugs his shoulders:
is no foreign help coming… Almost all that we have here comes from
Manila, either from the government or local agencies. Duterte is
working very hard, helping our people.”
escaped with her two babies. ( Photo: Andre Vltchek )
family of three, Camal Mimbalawag, his wife Ima and one-month-old
baby Mohammad, is squeezed into a tiny space at the center. Their
memories are bleak. Ima gives her account almost mechanically:
were in Marawi during the first stage of the attack. I was pregnant,
ready to give birth. We were in the city hall when ISIS attacked…
They erected checkpoints; divided people into groups… they pointed
guns at us… They asked: ‘Muslim or not?’…and ‘If Muslim,
then recite ‘Shahadat.’ If cannot, you get killed or taken as a
hostage… We saw corpses of those killed, eaten by dogs under the
battle for the city of Marawi is raging. I face it from the highest
floor of the building, destroyed by ISIS snipers, a place where an
Australian reporter was hit just two days earlier.
is not Aleppo,
but it could have been, if not for the heroic counter-attack of the
is just one new chapter in the already long book of horrors of brutal
religious terrorist acts, most of them directly or indirectly
triggered by Western imperialism. In the first wave of its fight
again the secular socialist Muslim governments, the West destabilized
Iran, Egypt and Indonesia. Then came the Afghanistan ‘gambit’,
followed by the arch-brutal destruction of Iraq and Libya.
was Syria’s turn.
is consistently used against Russia, China as well as the former
Central Asian Soviet republics.
this I described in my 840-page book: “Exposing
Lies Of The Empire”,
but one can never write fast enough and fully catch up with the
crimes committed by the West.
is often easy to pinpoint Western involvement in the religious
conflicts, particularly in such places as Afghanistan and Syria. In
the Philippines, the link is still indirect, well concealed, but it
rebel against the Western Empire is always a costly and bloody
affair. It often leads to coups sponsored by Washington, London or
Paris, and even to direct military conflicts, interventions and
by now, the people of the Philippines have had it ‘up to here’.
They had enough of being submissive; enough of being plundered while
They are assembling behind their president.
Duterte’s popularity is still around 75%. The army is clearly
winning the war against the hardened local and foreign jihadists.
Relief operations are effective and well organized. Things are just
only one year, the country has diametrically changed. To break the
spirit of the liberated masses, to force people back onto their knees
would be difficult, perhaps almost impossible, even if jihadi terror
is unleashed brutally.
100 soldiers already lost their lives. Just one day before I
encounter General Rey, six of his men were injured. It is said that
800 or more civilians died. Nobody knows exactly how many terrorists
were killed. It is real war: tough and merciless as all wars are, but
in this case, the ‘newly independent’ country is clearly winning.
soldier wearing second-hand US helmet ( Photo: Andre Vltchek )
is an incredible sight: some soldiers, patriotic and determined, are
still wearing those helmets with the US flags engraved into them, or
some old Israeli bulletproof vests. But have no doubts: this is real,
new country! Totally different Philippines and Marawi is one of the
first and toughest tests it will have to endure.
war united people and the army. No matter what the West and local
corporate media are saying, most Filipinos know: this is their
struggle; this is their president and their military fighting against
something extremely foreign, violent and dreadful.
Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative
journalist. He has covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries.
Three of his latest books are revolutionary novel“Aurora” and
two bestselling works of political non-fiction: “Exposing
Lies Of The Empire” and “Fighting
Against Western Imperialism”. View
his other books here.
Andre is making films for teleSUR and Al-Mayadeen. Watch Rwanda
Gambit, his groundbreaking documentary about Rwanda and DRCongo.
After having lived in Latin America, Africa and Oceania, Vltchek
presently resides in East Asia and the Middle East, and continues to
work around the world. He can be reached through his website and