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COTABATO CITY, Philippines – Three years since the siege that destroyed Marawi City, families residing at ground zero or the 24-barangay group of residents from the most affected areas of the city have yet to return to their homes.
Based on the Mindanao Displacement Dashboard of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, as of April 2020, a total of 25,355 families (126,775 individuals) are still displaced in various parts of Lanao province and Marawi City in the aftermath of the 2017 siege.
Some 22,400 (88.34%) of these are classified as “home-based,” or those who are either living with their relatives or renting domiciles outside Marawi.
This, despite Task Force Bangon Marawi’s promise in March 2019 that these displaced city residents would be able to return home by September of that year.
“If they are allowing us to visit the area from time to time, why can’t they allow us to return?” Zahria Muti-Mapandi, executive director of Al-Mujadilah Development Foundation and a resident of Marinaut asked, adding that prolonging the delay in their return home “increases our fear na baka kunin na talaga nila ang lupa namin (that our property may be taken from us).”
The fear, according to Muti-Mapandi, comes from the previous pronouncements of President Rodrigo Duterte of the intent to build a military camp inside the area.
“Where will they put the camp when most of the lands there are private property?” Muti-Mapandi also asked.
The city was liberated in September 2017, 5 months after the siege began. Yet the residents are not liberated from the horrors of the aftermath following the five-month onslaught.
Three years later, they are still unable to return to their homes.
Peace of mind
Muti-Mapandi is 43 years old and a mother of 3. She was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer one year after she began living as an evacuee.
“Two months after the siege, I felt a lump on my breast. But I was busy working, so it took me a year to have myself tested,” she said.
“Given my condition, having to rent in Iligan City despite owning property in Marawi City is an added burden,” she said.
“As a mother who was displaced, it has a big psychological effect on me. If we were still living in Marawi when I was diagnosed, at least I would have peace of mind over having stability for my children, no matter what happens to me.”
She added: “We still see the positive side of this situation, but we never forget to fight for our rights. We cannot just give up. Yes, we are resilient, but we cannot forever rely on resilience.”
According to her, the uncertainty of their situation feeds the anger of her fellow residents.
“The restoration of our property to us will do a lot to help us move forward, because we feel like our life is on hold right now,” she said.
‘Balik Marawi’ in the time of COVID-19
In this time where community quarantines and social distancing are advised, Drieza Lininding of the Moro Consesus Group said that preventive measures are “difficult to observe, especially for those who are living in temporary shelters and evacuation sites, since we have limited water supply and the spaces are small.”
“To ease up the congestion in different places in the country, especially those where Maranaos are living, we are amplifying our call for us to be allowed to return home,” he said. (READ: Life doubly hard in Marawi shelters as coronavirus grounds aid groups)
Lininding, a vocal critic of the national government’s rehabilitation efforts in Marawi, earlier called for the resignation of Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM) Secretary Eduardo del Rosario.
He said that during talks with the task force after failing to follow its own timeline, they were told they will only be allowed to return to their homes after road networks, electricity, and water lines are restored.
“Every time we corner them, they come up with additional excuses for us not to return,” said Lininding.
Special Committee on Marawi
A Maranao-dominated Special Committee on Marawi was created by the Bangsamoro parliament through Resolution No. 41 to “look into the status of the Marawi recovery, reconstruction, and rehabilitation efforts.”
Hope has been renewed among these displaced people now that a new entity has entered the arena, and a designated committee was created for the welfare of their city and Marawi’s residents.
The committee has so far finished two of its three-leg public hearings with important stakeholders in the city’s recovery, reconstruction, and rehabilitation, including representatives from various national government agencies, local government units, and international nongovernmental organizations.
“In fact, we will be more comfortable if the powers of rebuilding our city will be transferred to the BARMM government instead of the current TFBM,” Muti-Mapandi said.
She added: “We want them to take over because we can engage with the BARMM government and they can relate better to our issues because they are also Bangsamoro – they know our culture and our struggles.”
“After 3 years, we are still talking about the construction of temporary shelters,” Lininding said. “When BARMM takes over, it will fast-track the implementation of the projects because they know how to engage with us and they know our sentiments.”
For Lininding and Muti-Mapandi, 3 years after the destruction of Marawi, their call still remains the same: a safe and dignified return to their beloved city. – Rappler.com