DAVAO CITY, PHILIPPINES – Four years after the Islamic city of Marawi was razed to the ground due to the fighting between government forces and the ISIS-linked Maute group, Marawi locals complained of government promises not delivered and lamented for a safe and dignified return to their homes.
A network of Maranao leaders and civil society organizations (CSOs) collectively called Marawi Advocacy Accompaniment (MAA) said in a statement on May 22 that the peoples of Marawi are “up to this day, enduring the profound and unceasing pains” of the five-month siege that claimed over 1,200 lives and displaced more than 300,000 in 2017.
MAA, which is also the acronym used by stakeholders for Most Affected Area, urged the government to accelerate its efforts in rebuilding the city and provide just compensation to siege victims.
In an October 2020 article by the Philippine News Agency (PNA), Secretary Eduardo Del Rosario, chair of Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM), vowed that they would complete the rehabilitation of Marawi by December 2021, ‘’as promised’’ by President Rodrigo Duterte.
But Maranao leaders and CSOs working on the field doubted that this target can be met, saying Duterte’s promise ‘’remains invisible’’ and ‘’cannot be felt on the ground.’’
Marawi civic leader Drieza Lininding pointed out that government programs have been too focused on public infrastructure when the siege left more damage to private properties.
“The government is saying that they are 55-60% done with the rehabilitation of Marawi. Whose rehabilitation? That’s our question. Who is being rehabilitated here, the residents or the city? From our end, the start of our rehabilitation will take place after the government is done with its infrastructure projects in [the most affected area],” Lininding said during the IID) webinar on May 22.
According to the Institute for Leadership, Empowerment, and Democracy (iLEAD), the siege left more than P7 billion in pesos worth of damages to social services like housing, health and education while it cost only about P100 million in pesos in the infrastructure.
Following the policy of TFBM, displaced residents are prohibited to return and rebuild their homes until the government infrastructure projects are completed.
Thousands of those displaced remain in temporary shelters while others are living elsewhere in the country in squalid conditions, making them more vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even if residents will be allowed to return, they will need the Marawi Compensation Act to be passed into law before they can get financial assistance from the government to reconstruct their homes.
MAA criticized the government’s exclusion of affected residents from the planning process leading to Marawi’s rehabilitation.
“For us, the delays coupled with the neglect of the voices of communities in the city’s ground zero contribute further not only to the trauma still being endured by the ‘bakwits’ of the siege but also to the century-old narrative of marginalization, discrimination and exclusion and social deprivation in Mindanao,” they said.
“If what’s happening in the whole management of Marawi’s rehabilitation and reconstruction including the prolonged displacement of communities is not the negligence of the government’s sworn duty, what else should we call it?” they added.
MAA also called for more transparency and accountability in the government’s public spending, the urgent passage of laws for Marawi’s rehabilitation and compensation for displaced persons, as well as more inclusive planning and budgeting.
“Rebuilding Marawi should go beyond building large-scale public infrastructures. Rebuilding Marawi is about rebuilding our lives,” they said.