Alawi Speaks on the Fate of Marawi Siege Child Warriors at 1st Southeast Asian Women’s Summit
With her characteristic impassioned style reserved for certain causes she espouses and commits herself to, Dr. Rebekah M. Alawi, Consultant to the MSU System President, delivered a fiery paper on the fate of the child warriors in the five-month Marawi Siege at the 1st Women’s Summit held at Miriam College, on November 6-9, 2017. From different parts of the region, champions of women’s rights and empowerment, of different suasions, came. The Summit was a gathering of women and feminist groups from various sectors and institutions including academe, civil society, professionals and representatives of government agencies, urban and rural-based women groups. It re-affirmed women’s role in nation-building and in the war against the rising tide of violent extremism and terrorism, including the ruination of the ecology. The event was graced by Vice President Leni Robredo, Ms. Gina Lopez, UNDP Country Director Titon Mitra, Ambassadors Delia Albert (Philippines), Kok Li Peng (Singapore), and Amanda Gorely (Australia), and MSU Regent Amina Rasul.
While other speakers sang praises to women’s achievements and their steady advance in their struggle “to hold up half of the sky,” Dr. Alawi departed from the common trend in her paper titled “The Child Warriors in the Marawi Siege: Where Have all the Mothers Gone?” It was an indictment, a reproach at once caustic and moving, addressed to all sectors of society – the family, especially mothers who as the primary stakeholders and advocates of their children must bear the brunt of the responsibility and accountability, religious leaders, teachers, the government, and the larger community – for the emergence of child warriors in the Marawi Siege. She condemned this abominable fact as a slaughter of the innocent. Arguing that it “takes a village” to mold the young into the beasts of warped minds mouthing the mantras of their black-clad pipers, or into the finest of the species, her piece denied acquittal or absolution from responsibility for the entire community or society.
She used as an analogy the seduction of all the chilplayed, inveighing against what she called the sins of commission and sins of omission of mothers and the community that made the young vulnerable to the blandishments of the tempters. Children, she said, should be “frolicking in open fields with the life-giving sunlight on their happy, innocent faces, reading comics and books, going to school, and weaving dreams of their future as doctors, lawyers, engineers, and teachers, and of decent, honorable, and significant lives in the future, instead of bearing guns and sent too soon to their doom, the battlefield, by carrying out the grim commands of their “mentors”. This phenomenon of boy soldiers is not new nor peculiar to Marawi or Mindanao. It is a commonplace in war-torn parts of the world like the Middle East, Africa, and Southeast Asia. Movies like Ezra, the Nigerian-made entry to the Cannes Festival, treats the case of child soldiers in Sierra Leone. A more recent one produced by Angelina Jolie, First They Killed my Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, is a dramatic revisit of the horrific reign of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge and the dark nightmarish days of the killing fields. Such movies afford a protective “aesthetic distance,” the speaker declared. However, when the same phenomenon is happening right in “öur backyard,” apathy is inexpiable.
Other speakers in the workshop on women’s role in preventing violent extremism — Atty. Salma Rasul, Executive Director of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy; Suzanne Damman of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue; Country Director Jayanthi Devi Balaguru, Chair of the CALD Women’s Caucus-Malaysia; and Vice Chair Rachada Dhnadirek of Thailand’s CALD Women’s Caucus, presented some “push” and “pull” factors behind the recruitment of boy soldiers as well as recommendations for preventing violent extremism from taking root in communities. Dr. Alawi did the same but stressed some factors unique to the Lanao setting like the indoctrination or brainwashing of the young through persuasion strategies – teaching of the ‘brand’ of Islam purveyed by the black-clad Maute-ISIS group – and of the recruiters’ promise of generous “allowance”. The rest of Alawi’s paper is devoted to encounters with the child warriors in the war zone based on the narratives of survivors, released hostages, and soldiers themselves.
Dr. Rommel Banlaoi, Chair of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, served as Moderator of the workshop which was attended by a large crowd.
Dr. Alawi sees the child warriors as victims themselves who need compassion, understanding, love and help. As the line in the song “Bui Doi” (the “dust of life”) from Miss Saigon goes, these boys “are our children, too.” Her piece is an exhortation to action. The child warriors in the Marawi Siege, the fallen as well as the survivors, should never be treated as war statistics or part of the collateral damage, and just casually tossed on the slag heap of history. Dr. Alawi hopes to galvanize or drum up support for the building of a facility known as YOUTHOPIA, a healing, rehabilitation, training and research center for child warriors and others at risk for recruitment by militant or terrorist groups. This is conceived as an addition to the range of services offered by the Mindanao State University to the present and future generations. .