Mila Camid Pagarungan, mother of 7, is tired. Wearing a mask and sitting on the floor of her relatives’ house, she laments how exhausted she is from moving place to place, from struggling to put food on the table, and from the fear brought by the threat of COVID-19.
Mila is not alone in this. We, bakwits, (internally displaced peoples) share her exhaustion.
Tatlong taong bakwit
Three years after the Marawi siege, our lives remain in limbo. At the moment, about 17,000 of us remain in temporary shelters, with over 80,000 displaced in different parts of the country, staying with relatives and host families, or on our own. COVID-19 has further exposed our vulnerabilities.
We’re told: “Stay at home. Practice social distancing. Wash your hands.”
But how, pray tell, do you expect us to do that?
It’s been 3 long years and until now, we haven’t been able to pick up the pieces of our war-torn lives. True, most of us who used to stay in tent cities have now been transferred to more sturdy shelters — but, it’s still not home. How can we practice social distancing in the crowded shelters or with the host families we are currently living with?
How can we wash our hands when access to water is very limited? There are water pumps in the shelter sites in Sagonsongan and Bahay Pag-asa but the queues are usually long, and supply remains erratic due to overuse. The water trucks that used to augment our water supply have stopped their rations.
How can we even put food on the table when due to COVID-19, we cannot go out and carry on with our informal jobs as sellers or tricycle/pedicab drivers? For some of us who have been very much dependent on aid groups for our sustenance, the COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions have put everything to a halt. Our brothers and sisters in Metro Manila and other urban centers have lost their jobs due to COVID-19. How do we raise our children in this situation?
War brought us to our knees. Do not let COVID-19 completely break us.
Let us go back to our homes. Kung may programang ‘Balik Probinsya, Balik Pag-asa’ (BP2) ang gobyerno, pwede ba maisama ang balik Marawi?
The government wants to decongest Metro Manila and urban centers to mitigate the negative impacts of COVID-19. The BP2 program, as laid out in Executive Order 114, seeks to “boost countryside development and inclusive growth, provide adequate social services, and promote full employment, industrialization.” It seeks to provide comprehensive assistance packages as enticement for residents of Metro Manila and urban centers to go back to their home provinces.
A good move, definitely. But what about us?
Ever since Marawi was liberated, all we have been asking for is for our immediate, safe, and dignified return to our own homes. A lot of promises have been made, and yet, here we are. Marawi’s ground zero remains a ghost town. Task Force Bangon Marawi has repeatedly failed us. Where is the money earmarked for the rehabilitation and recovery of Marawi? What makes the process so very slow? Why is there so much bureaucratic red tape? Why is government prioritizing the building of a military garrison in Marawi over the development of our communities? Our lives and our children’s futures are at stake here.
Our call – do not forget us. We simply want to stand on our own feet and rebuild our lives in the comfort of our homes. Is this too much to ask?
As one, we Meranaos echo Mila’s lament: “Nawa’y kami ay makauwi na sa aming mga tahanan. Nananawagan po kami sa aming mga lider na matulungan niyo kami, lalung-lalo na ang pandemya ng COVID-19 ay dumagdag pa sa aming paghihirap.”
Moro Consensus Group
Al-Mujadilah Development Foundation, Inc
Ranaw Rescue Team