MARAWI CITY: Three years ago, on May 23, 2017, terror struck Marawi, the Islamic city in the Philippines and dubbed the summer capital of the country’s south. An estimated 1,000 Islamic State-inspired Maute group and allied terrorists laid a siege on Marawi City. It took government forces five months to drive them out, with extensive shelling and bombing leaving the Islamic city in shambles, with thousands of lives lost and tens of thousands of residents displaced.
Sad to say, Maranaos have no reason to rejoice for there is nothing joyous and merry in this man-made tragedy that had never befallen the Maranao People in the past.
The Maranao families were forced to flee with assurances from local officials and the military that they could comeback in not a long time. They left their homes and properties only to be destroyed and looted, lives of their loved ones lost, and became internally displaced persons (IDPs) with a shuttered future.
But sad to say, for three years, they were made to live in evacuation centers. Worst, until now, most of them are still in temporary shelters, not certain of their future. Promises of Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM) to return them to their homes remain just promises until now, after three years. Until when do they have to live in temporary shelters? No one among them surely knows!
Civic leaders have led the call on the government to bring back homes the displaced families but such a call has just fallen to deaf ears. They tried force themsekves in but government troops prevailed. Even the call for the TFBM revamp or change of leadership due to its failure in the Marawi rehabilitation has fallen to deaf ears, too.
Deputy Speaker Hataman joins the call for TFBM revamp
A few days ago, House Deputy Speaker Mujiv Hataman re-echoed the call for the revamp of the TF Bangon Marawi or its leadership.
Hataman claimed that the TFBM, established on June 28, 2017 at the height of the armed conflict in Marawi as the main agency to tackle Marawi rehabilitations, has failed to effect much change for three years despite billions of aids to rebuild, reconstruct and rehabilitate Marawi coming from within and without the country.
“Maybe it’s time for a revamp or a leadership change in TFBM. It has been three years and still, the people of Marawi have yet to return to their homes. This is actionable negligence already on the part of TFBM,” he said.
“Rehabilitation should move faster than the virus. Long before this plan to flatten the curve, Marawi was already flattened by bombs. No other city has suffered these three in succession: war, virus and now hunger. Just imagine being in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and you cannot even stay under the protection of your own home,” Hataman said.
Marawi problem may spark new wave of terrorism
Senator Imee R. Marcos warned on Saturday that the continuing delay of rehabilitation efforts in Marawi, aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic, provides fertile ground for a new wave of terrorism in the country.
Marcos, chairwoman of the Senate cultural communities committee, issued the statement on the third anniversary of the Marawi Siege, which coincides with the start of Eid ul-Fitr, which celebrates the end of fasting during Ramadan.
“Our military is overstretched. We may render them inutile, ordering them to be coronavirus disease frontliners assisting in the delivery of medical and food supplies, on top of keeping the peace in troubled zones. Many anti-government forces could take advantage of the situation and the frustration of Marawi’s homeless,” she said.
“Marawi will remain volatile as long as its residents are condemned to be ‘bakwits (refugees)’. Let them go home soonest, three years’ exile has been an eternity!” Marcos stressed.
Marcos has proposed via Senate Bill 410 to use part of a vast military reservation area to grant land titles to Marawi residents who lost their homes and businesses during the siege.
“President Duterte has the power to grant this. It will cut the Gordian knot of having to reconstitute land and property titles to which the Maranao tradition of deep family trust and keeping one’s word are not really accustomed,” Marcos said.
“The requirement of such legal documents continues to prevent thousands of displaced Marawi residents from reclaiming and rebuilding their homes and are the main cause of delay in Marawi’s rehabilitation,” Marcos added.
Marcos’s bill also seeks to set up a more permanent Bangon Marawi Council, citing that the present Task Force Bangon Marawi has repeatedly missed its deadlines and that “complete rehabilitation will take decades.”
Maranao state federal movement chairman Bayan Balt also fears the Marawi problem may spark another problem if TFBM chairperson Eduardo del Rosario continues telling lies about the reason of the delay of the rehabilitation.
Balt said when he visited the Ground Zero or the most affected area, he saw no electricity installed, no water system in place, only 30 percent of debris removed, only a few kilometers of roads repaired partially. He said he never saw anyone looking for unexploded bombs, the main reason invoked by the TFBM why residents could not return. “Maybe the president is receiving wrong reports from the TFBM.”
“Mr. President, do not wait for the time the people’s patience snap, otherwise it will be a more serious problem than we think,” Balt said, adding that if the president leaves office with the Marawi rehabilitation unfinished and without the IDPs having returned to their homes, this will remain a black eye in his administration.
Earlier, we only saw groups with connection directly or indirectly to funding proxies doing activities which are insignificant to what the victims deserve. We have observed that immediately after the siege, Maranao evacuees are kept busy everyday, discussing the proposed rehabilitation as the most concern and the victims. But for three years, nothing of importance has been been positively achieved.
Mourning, not celebration
The Marawi tragedy anniversary shall be mourned deeply by the Maranao People, and, if possible, more than how other nations grieve when similar calamity or the other befalls them, even as they must strive hard for their immediate recovery.
It is expected that the Maranaos displaced and victims of the siege shall show their grumble, bemoaning, and all emotional protests. They MUST tell the whole world about the painful reality of what happened to them.
I agree when a fellow and close friend journalist said the Maranao people have nothing to celebrate for the devastation of their homeland. This journalist who wished un-identified lamented hearing some people calling for a commemoration on the 3rd year anniversary of what they called ‘Marawi Siege.’ Only those who laid the tragedy on them may celebrate, but not the devastated Maranao people.
Lucman Maganduga is right in suggesting, “There should be history tellers with a true script of what transpired from the people who are the brains, and the planners and the root cause, the motives and the reasons of the destruction.”
Like Maranao nitizen Ben Noum Vadnez who would rather call the siege as ‘Marawi Tragedy,’ Maganduga believes the destruction of Marawi is a conspiracy that needs to be undressed and exposed.
According to Ben Noum Vadnez, “The truth is there was conspiracy of invasion to depopulate the city of its inhabitants within 72 hours. The innocent sacrificial lambs were trapped to their death while the local terrorists’ attackers led by the Maute group and Isnilon Hapilon’s faction became the scapegoats… there was no real ‘siege’ to the true meaning of the word,” he emphasized.
Whatever people say about the Marawi tragedy, and whatever untold stories about it, Marawi will still remain a problem that will only be solved if the government will keep its promises to rehabilitate the siege city and return the victims to their homes.
With a people of its own living in temporary shelters for three years and counting and uncertain of their future, the Philippine Republic shall always have black mark on its forehead that humanity has to condemn in history.
MASIDING NOOR YAHYA