Peace for the World

Peace for the World
First democratic leader of Justice the Godfather of the Sri Lankan Tamil Struggle: Honourable Samuel James Veluppillai Chelvanayakam

Monday, July 10, 2017

Evacuees want a voice in rebuilding of embattled Marawi City

Anisah, 43, poses at an evacuation centre outside Marawi City, Philippines July 4, 2017. Picture taken July 4, 2017. Source: Reuters/Jorge Silva

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WITH the Philippine government setting aside P20 billion (USD 395 million) for Marawi City to rise from the ashes of war, civil society groups are pushing for the inclusion of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the decision process to rehabilitate the battered Muslim-majority city.

Task Force Bangon (Rise) Marawi, which President Rodrigo Duterte formally created through Administrative Order No. 3 released last week, convened for the first time over the weekend to chart the rehabilitation plan for the war-torn city.

The task force, chaired by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, was organised to lead the recovery, reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts for communities affected by the war in Marawi, which continues to wear on after erupting on May 23.

Duterte placed the entire Mindanao island under martial law after clashes broke out between government troops and the ISIS-linked Maute Group and Abu Sayyaf.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines reported Monday that as of Saturday evening, 367 terrorists have been killed and 367 firearms recovered from them. There are 39 civilians that have been executed or killed in the crossfire. Meanwhile, 1,722 civilians who were held hostage or trapped behind the front line have been rescued.

Lorenzana, a retired military general and martial law administrator, could not say how long will it take to rebuild Marawi, as he revealed that he will use the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) “as the vehicle to implement the rehabilitation of Marawi because we consider the events in Marawi as man-made disaster.”

“So that we do not need anymore to designate additional or other people to be members of the NDRRMC, we will use the current mechanism of the NDRRMC,” said Lorenzana, who also chairs the council.

The official noted that rehabilitation and recovery will start as soon as the fighting stops in Marawi, with one Army engineering ready to move in to commence the repair works.

“(It) may take a lot of time for recovery and rehabilitation because there are lots of buildings destroyed because of our aerial bombings, and also because of the actions of the enemy blowing up buildings as well as burning houses,” he said.

Lorenzana asked the government to be ready to infuse more funds as the P20 billion allocation to restore Marawi may not be enough.

The official said they are expecting foreign governments, including the United States, to also help in the rehabilitation of Marawi, on top of their immediate assistance for the humanitarian needs of the evacuees.

2017-07-07T110437Z_1548386010_RC1E467BFB70_RTRMADP_3_PHILIPPINES-MILITANTS-1  Displaced men attend the Friday prayers at a mosque next to an evacuation centre outside Marawi city, Philippines, July 7, 2017. Source: Reuters/Jorge Silva

‘Hear our voices’

As the rehabilitation works for Marawi have yet to start, civil society organisations (CSOs) called on the task force to provide spaces for dialogues where participation and representation of internally displaced peoples, including women and traditional and religious leaders, are heard.

“We wanted to see the stakeholders actually taking part in the decision-making to chart the rehabilitation and reconstruction of their respective homes and the city,” the CSOs said in a manifesto.

They also stressed the need for the task force to be culturally-sensitive in carrying out the rehabilitation plan for Marawi, whose inhabitants are mostly Maranaos or the “people of the lake.”

The CSOs placed the number of evacuees in Marawi at 84,856 families or 400,432, of which 3,982 families or 18,335 persons are languishing in 78 evacuation centers while 70,895 families or 335,064 individuals are home-based or staying with their relatives in 409 villages across seven regions in the Philippines.

With no place like home, the evacuees, locally called “bakwits,” have been desperate to return to their city to restart their lives afresh. They have thus far been away from their homes for 49 days since the clashes erupted on May 23.

“We civilians want to return to Marawi … [the government] should allow the safe return of civilians on cleared areas so that normalcy may phase in,” said Samira  Gutoc-Tomawis, co-convenor of the Ranao Rescue Team, a group helping to rescue civilians trapped in the Marawi war zone.

“Tears were the usual daily fare here as daily sirens pass us at Tubod, Iligan City, our new home away from Marawi City,” she added, referring to the ambulances carrying wounded soldiers that passed them by.

Many evacuees have sought refuge in evacuation centers or stayed with their relatives in Iligan, a neighboring city.

But the bakwits remain unable to return home in the absence of approval from government. The military claims only around 80 Maute Group members are holed-up in a small pocket of the city, down from the estimated 700 fighters at the height of the violence.

Lorenzana conceded that the army had initially underestimated the strength of the Maute Group. Military clearing operations remain ongoing.

Maranaos are resilient people

Haroun Al Rashid Alonto Lucman, Jr., vice governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and the region’s social welfare secretary, expressed optimism the displaced Maranaos could rise from the tragedy.

He cited the “time-honoured” close family ties of the Maranao tribe as one of the factors that make them a resilient people.

“For a start, we invest in the education of a relative needing financial support because of our fealty to the family. Also, ‘he might succeed in the future and become somebody and (can) help us too’,” he noted.

Marawi is also known as the “City of Streamers” because, according to Lucman, the people take pride of a relative’s achievement. “In a Maranao family, we rejoice and suffer together,” he said.

Lucman noted the Marawi seige has shown the unique closeness of the Maranaos, stressing that majority of the IDPs are home-based while only a minority stayed in evacuation centers.

“People tend to take in their relatives to their households to help ease their suffering. This duty is sustained by reciprocal relations between and among Maranao relatives,” he added.