100,000 Maranao sign petition to halt planned military camps in Marawi

JC Gotinga
100,000 Maranao sign petition to halt planned military camps in Marawi
Increased military presence in the war-ravaged city may rile up residents' cultural and religious sensitivities, and take up land that has historic meaning to the Maranao people, the petitioners say

MANILA, Philippines – More than 100,000 people from Marawi City and Lanao del Sur province signed a petition asking President Rodrigo Duterte to halt the government’s plan to build new military camps in the war-ravaged city.

Marawi-based civic groups SAKSI Radio Forum and Ranaw Confederation for Peace brought their petition to the Office of the President in Malacañang late afternoon on Friday, November 15.

The petitioners were still waiting for a response from the President on Monday, November 18, their spokesperson Abo Hayyan Malomalo told Rappler.

The petitioners warned that increasing military presence in Marawi would go against the Maranao’s cultural and religious sensitivities, and could lead to unrest.

“We are all one and united in our stand that establishing a new military camp could bring about social and political repercussions or spark cultural sensitivity that may possibly lead to social unrest or chaos if adverse effects arise [from it], not to mention the ultimate plan to institutionalize it as a military industrial base,” the groups said in their petition.

“The Maranaos vehemently oppose or resent the idea,” they added.

The petitioners also expressed concern that the plan would expose Maranao women to non-Muslim men, and any violation of their “gender sensitivity” and “Maratabat” or sense of honor could result in violence.

They also worry that an influx of non-Maranao military families would bring about “possible changes in the political landscape” of Marawi, and these newcomers would have “undue influence” if they “actively participate in electoral exercises” once they become legal residents of the city.

Besides these, Malomalo said the land has become part of Maranao history, to which their identity is inextricably tied.

“Mahalaga po iyan dahil future po ng aming mga anak, generation ang nakataya diyan. Nandiyan po ang mga libingan ng aming mga magulang. Historic po ‘yan,” Malomalo said.

(That is important because our children’s future and generations are at stake. Our forebears are buried there. That’s historic.)

The Maranao people of Lanao del Sur and its capital, Marawi, early on opposed plans to build new military camps as part of the government’s program to reconstruct the city after the 5-month battle against the pro-Islamic State (ISIS) Maute terror group that began in May 2017.

This recent signature campaign began in October, when the Philippine Army secured writs of possession, or recovery orders from a legal court, for more than 10 hectares of land in barangays Caloocan East and Kapantaran in Marawi’s most affected area (MAA), the city’s commercial hub almost completely destroyed by the fighting.

Some 2,000 hectares of Marawi City were declared a military reservation in 1953, and the military would merely be reacquiring land it really owned, Housing Secretary and Task Force Bangon Marawi chief Eduardo del Rosario earlier said.

The Philippine Army’s 103rd Infantry Brigade already has a camp in Marawi, but adding new ones is necessary to stamp out terror threats in and around the city, Major General Jesus Sarsagat, Army chief of staff, said on October 14.

Different Maranao groups have complained and decried the government’s insistence on keeping Marawi’s roughly 100,000 remaining displaced residents out of the city’s MAA until all unexploded bombs and other safety hazards are cleared, which could take until mid-2021.

That’s just too long, Maranao civic leaders have said. Meanwhile, security experts warn that the people’s resentment could become fodder for radicalization, and help terror groups recruit new fighters among the desperate and homeless.

Malomalo said they expect Duterte to grant their petition, “dahil galing ito sa mga internally displaced person, at alam natin na may dugong Maranao ang President, and we trusted him as our President (because this came from internally displaced persons, and we know that the President has Maranao blood, and we trusted him as our President).”

Duterte has claimed a number of times that his mother was of Maranao descent.

Although hoping for the best, the petitioners are looking at other legal remedies should they receive a negative response from the President, Malomalo said. – Rappler.com

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JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.