CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – Displaced Marawi residents have long desired to go back to what remains of their homes, most of which were destroyed in the war-torn city. They don’t want to just briefly visit the communities they left behind when the fighting broke out between extremists and the military last May 23.
After months of being declared, by President Rodrigo Duterte, as liberated from enemy forces last October, the government finally allowed evacuees to visit their houses in the 24 villages that were heavily damaged due to ground battle and aerial assaults in Marawi, starting Sunday, April 1.
Prior to the scheduled visit, internally displaced Maranaos staged a protest rally in Marawi on Friday, March 30, and were planning to enter the most-affected area to hold a Friday congregational prayer at ground zero, but were blocked by the military citing safety concerns.
According to the information sheet given out by the city government of Marawi and Task Force Bangon Marawi, 80 percent of the unexploded ordnance and improvised explosive devices have already been cleared by the Armed Forces of the Philippines in the affected area.
But some Maranaos are doubtful if they can go back for good to rebuild not just their homes but also their lives.
“The Friday protest proves that the [government] can no longer contain the angst and frustrations of the [displaced] Meranaws from the [main] affected areas. The [government] should now look into the clamor of affected residents,” Moro Consensus Group chairman Drieza Lininding said.
Talks of converting civilian communities into economic zone or a military installation have also resonated among the displaced Marawi folks, who have shown their opposition to these proposals.
“From what we see the [government] is alone in making Marawo an Eco Zone or Military Camps. Nobody wants that except those who will benefit at our own expense. They (government) need not [look] that far and ambitious in rebuilding Marawi, the residents only want to return and rebuild what is left of their homes where it is located with or without [government support],” he said.
The affected residents also expressed their indignation over their exclusion in the reconstruction plans of the government.
Tirmizy Abdullah, one of the Maranaos whose family had to evacuate during the conflict, said that what they want is not just to visit their houses but to return to their communities permanently.
Abdullah echoed the apprehensions felt by many that the villages located in the ground zero will be flattened and this would mean their dwellings and land will be lost to pave the way for the government’s plans.
During the visit, Abdullah reminded residents to document their destroyed houses and properties as proof for their demand for reparation and as supporting evidence on possible cases of looting.
In a statement, the Ranaw Multi-Sectoral Movement appealed to Pres. Rodrigo Duterte ti let them lead the rehabilitation of Marawi.
“We are not building a city from debris. We are rebuilding a city from history and from memory. We appeal to you to let Marawi be rebuilt the way our ancestors did: one house at a time, one masjid at a time. One village at a time,” the group said.
“It is high time for residents to see their homes, salvage what was left of their belongings and rebuild their houses. For 10 months, they were deprived of their rights to come back to their homes and were angered at reports that [Duterte] would convert their communities into a military camp, a tourism hub and commercial center instead of rebuilding their houses,” said Aida Ibrahim, national coordinator of Tindeg Ranao, an organization of Maranao evacuees, in a separate statement.
Quoting data from the Department of Social Welfare and Development, Tindeg Ranao said that out of 28,219 evacuees that were supposed to go back to their respective barangays, only 20,668 had gone back, and at least 7,551 persons that have yet to be served by the agency.
Both the Marawi city government and TBFM identified the 24 affected barangays as Bangolo Poblacion, Bubonga Lilod Madaya, Daguduban, Dansalan, Datu Naga, Datu sa Dansalan, Kapantaran, Lilod Madaya (Poblacion), Lumbac Marinaut, Lumbaca Madaya (Poblacion), Marinaut East, Marinaut West, Moncado Colony, Moncado Kadingilan, Norhaya Village, Raya Madaya I, Raya Madaya II, Sabala Manao, Sabala Manao Proper, Tolali, Tuca Marinaut, Wawalayan Marinaut, Sangcay Dansalan, and South Madaya Proper.
Authorities advised those visiting the affected areas, “Extreme caution among residents is recommended during the visit. The military and a medical team from the Marawi city government will also be present to protect the security and health safety of residents.” (davaotoday.com)