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Authors: Hannah Reyes Morales, Dr. Alexander L. Fattal • Resource type: Art
Hannah Reyes Morales’s photographs take us into the battle to control Mindanao in the southern Philippines, where a growing number of insurgents have pledged allegiance to ISIS. Her images are a testament to the Philippines government’s heavy-handed treatment of the operational environment, turning entire areas to rubble in its bid to wipe out the insurgent threat. Returning with residents after the Marawi siege of 2017, Reyes Morales documents the devastation of homes destroyed and residents left to pick up the literal pieces of their belonging. Family albums lie in tatters, vegetation grows over abandoned vehicles, the church is pock-marked with bullets, the destruction seems total.
The graffiti on walls is revealing. In one frame “Soldiers are friends of the Muslims” is scrawled next to a gaping hole in the wall. On other walls ISIS has left its mark. The battle for hearts and minds, which has such a long history in the Philippines, can take an ironic turn under Reyes Morales’s lens. She photographs the “I ‘heart symbol’ Marawi” sign, which too is bullet-ridden. She takes the picture from behind as a soldier patrols along its giant letters, a damaged mosque in the background. The image is symbolic of dreams destroyed: dreams of the area as a tropical tourist destination, dreams of development, dreams of the type of tranquility conducive to piety, all shot-up to the point of non-recognition.
Rebuilding has been slow. In the meantime, residents languish in temporary shelters. The operational environment looks decreasingly operation, yet the environment is as deadly as ever, prone to natural shocks such as cyclones and floods. Mindanao is a curious theater for the war on terror, an area where legacies of Cold War counterinsurgency meet the ever-changing assemblage of Islamic extremism. The scenery in Reyes Morales’s images provides a cautionary tale of the costs of approaching complex problems with the unflinching military force, which might serve to radicalize future generations.
— Alexander L. Fattal
University of California, San Diego
Copyright information: Photos are copyright © Hannah Reyes Morales.