I was deeply hurt when Lea, not her real name, jokingly said that she’s about to cry while forcefully reminiscing the not-so-long ago Marawi crisis. It’s almost three years. But she can vividly recall her graduation ceremony held at MSU-IIT as the saddest, a story of a family who received bullets from the military while on their way out due to false allegation, destroyed homes due to indiscriminate bombings, lost household belongings, and the withstanding reality that they had lost a place that holds their identity as Maranaos.

Right now, what’s left in Marawi are just the ruins. But the greatest ruins can only be found inside their minds — deep-seated invisible scars — seeking for healing, not insults and disregard from our government.

Last week, I had a chance to have a conversation with some of the internally displaced youth in a forum that we attended about the Istanbul Protocol and the inhumanity of torture. Along with physicians, lawyers, NGO workers, civil society organizations, Commission on Human Rights personnel, and human rights defenders, we afforded each other a safe space to contextualize and give resolutions to problems that persistently exist on the ground.

In one of the sessions, Lea was requested to talk about the personal struggles of internally displaced peoples (IDPs). Despite the hesitation to speak up, both internal pain and courage pushed her to grab the microphone, with a piece of yellow paper on one hand, she started to move our hearts; each word hitting the core of our conscience; each pause gives a period for rumination; each story echoes urgent calls for justice, truth, and a pleading to talk about what happened to Marawi again.

The last SONA of the President is hurtful to the Marawi residents. The head of the state only talked about the heroism of his soldiers and policemen, and mentioned a little about Marawi rehabilitation. He proclaimed proudly that the responsibility of the state is over; arguing that the influence of drugs and drug money fueled the man-made conflict. However, to the Marawi residents, this is a blatant act of mere simplification of their perpetuating trauma, loss of loved ones, and burned down to ashes homes. On the President’s long speech, there is no plan of rebuilding Marawi — putting back its culturally-diverse community — leaving an implied message to stop talking about what happened to it.

But we can’t. At this instance, where the government is strongly determined to limit its rehabilitation program to short term tents and sustenance of basic commodities, it’s imperative to reiterate the stories of the survivors and the families of the victims.

We should continue to provide safe spaces for survivors to claim their rights for their own land and settlements, and afford justice to some claimed deaths, missing bodies, and unidentified victims. It’s only through the establishment of safe spaces where we don’t get estranged by cultural differences, religious beliefs, political ideologies, and individual interests. Within the safe spaces, we learn to value courage than fear; we learn to harness our voice than silence; we learn to heal collectively than repress the past individually.

As a sprout of the efforts to collectively challenge the government’s uncertain development plan on Marawi, the IDPs together with actively working civil society organizations (such as Ranao Foundation Inc., PCAT, Duyog Marawi, Balaod Mindanaw and others), have formed a people-based initiative entitled “Reclaiming Marawi Movement” that calls for a safe and dignified return, justice, truth, and accountability, and reclamation of the IDPs’ identity. (You can visit the Facebook page)

On our way back to Davao, everything remains the same. The dizzying road still makes our stomachs volatile. The tall and firm trees still invite us to experience brief tranquility of the mind. The sunrise along Buda road still ignites new beginnings. But the greatest thing that has changed is our invigorated vision for Marawi to stand on its grandiose Lake Lanao again, enriched with deeply woven cultures and plethora of people. Above all, let the call for truth, justice, and accountability rule over Marawi — not social injustice and extremist ideologies that started the war in the first place.

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