Media and the Butig Siege: Covering the Unfolding Crisis
CHEERS TO the media organizations that provided more than the usual combat information in their reporting of the recent attack of the terrorist Maute group.
Violence struck on Saturday morning, Nov. 26, as the terrorist Maute group returned to Butig, seizing a school, a mosque and the town hall which LGU officials had abandoned since the group attacked the area early this year. News accounts tracked the unfolding events over the weekend.
It wasn’t the first encounter between government forces and the group; a week of clashes in February this year ended with the military restoring order.The military left a force to coordinate with the police and local government on security arrangements to protect the civilian population.
Following a template for covering clashes between government troops and insurgent or terrorist groups, the media rush to the scene to capture the picture of the conflict, pick up the count of the dead and wounded, as well as the civilian population displaced. Reporters also share the status updates given by the military, keeping up with operations conducted as the days pass.
Some media are now breaking away from this formula, providing background on the Maute group and ISIS as well as the chronicle of clashes with the military this year.
Butig, located 52 kilometers from Marawi City, was once a stronghold of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Brothers Abdullah and Omar Maute, former MILF members, formed the breakaway group which pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS). This background as well as the history of clashes in Butig is helps the public appreciate the essential and was included in some reports (TV Patrol, 24 Oras, Aksyon, Network News and the Philippine Daily Inquirer).
Commendably, Dateline Philippines (ANC) anchors Karmina Constantino and Ron Cruz’s interview with Armed Forces of the Philippines Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla on Nov. 28 drew out information that helped the public know more about the clash and the background of the conflict.
Constantino and Cruz probed into the connection of the Maute group to ISIS, asking about the meaning of the terror group’s flag raised in the area. They asked him to explain military efforts to strike balance between securing innocent lives and neutralizing the Maute group. With the town supposedly secured by government forces, they asked Padilla to describe how exactly the Maute band was able to take back the area, inquired into the town’s importance for the armed group, and the military plans to secure it when they succeed to reclaim it (The military reported to have gained control of the area on Nov. 30).
These questions elicited responses that reflected the failure of the military to sustain the security and defense of Butig. Padilla said that while they left a force to coordinate with police and LGUs in maintaining security after the February clashes, challenges in other areas called for the need to move troops. He said that a “rethinking of sort” must be done to further help in securing the area.
Such backgrounding on the issues of conflict helps the public understand the history of violence in various parts of the country. Such context takes the discourse beyond the usual narrative of combat and casualties. In this case, a TV interview revealed the various challenges faced by the military in their primary duty to defend and secure our communities.