4 years after siege, Marawi folk desperate to trek back home
MARAWI CITY, Lanao del Sur, Philippines — Activist Drieza Lininding, 42, longs for that time when family members were just immediately around him—this was the idea of community for the clannish Maranao.
After the family fled the city at the height of the siege by Islamic State (IS)-linked militants on May 23, four years ago, Lininding has seen less of his immediate family members and relatives. This circumstance troubles him as he now has a 3-year-old son and a year-old daughter since he got married a week before the siege.
More than 300,000 residents fled this provincial capital of Lanao del Sur. Today, about 90,000 have yet to return.
“I am sad and frustrated that my children are not able to see the house of my parents in West Marinaut where my wife and I planned to raise our family. They also rarely see their cousins,” he said.
With prolonged displacement from their homes and communities, Lininding fears that the social fabric underpinning the Maranao families would unravel.
Four years on, the prospect of their return and the fulfillment of President Rodrigo Duterte’s promise that Marawi will rise again remains bleak. It was only last year that massive construction of public infrastructure began.
Underway is the rebuilding of the city’s public market, the Grand Padian, as well as a peace park, several mosques, barangay multipurpose centers, main roads, a drainage system and a heritage museum.
Housing Secretary Eduardo del Rosario, chair of Task Force Bangon Marawi, has targeted to have almost all these facilities completed by the end of the year.
For purposes of reconstruction, the 250-hectare most affected area (MAA) of the battles in 2017, spanning across 24 villages, is divided into nine sectors.
After the establishment of common-use infrastructure and the connection of water and electricity lines, a sector is then opened for building permit application, allowing displaced families to work on rebuilding their homes and hopefully start life anew in their old communities.
The task force has identified 15,727 displaced families from the MAA.
According to Marawi City Mayor Majul Gandamra, the city government has approved 2,437 building permits for houses in Sectors 1 to 7 as of April 30.
Currently, there are 482 houses being built in Sectors 1 to 3 while another 113 are completed and occupied.
Applications for Sectors 8 and 9 will be opened as soon as public infrastructures are done.
Several families with approved building permits said they would rebuild their homes once they were financially capable. Most of them look forward to a government compensation program for them to be able to do so.
Maria Carmen Fernandez, a researcher for the International Center for Innovation, Transformation and Excellence in Governance, said the proposed compensation for Marawi residents currently pending in Congress would be significant to kick-starting the rehabilitation of private homes in Marawi.
According to Anak Mindanao (Amin) Rep. Amihilda Sangcopan, the government’s economic managers are generally opposed to the idea of compensating Marawi residents for their damaged properties, worried that this would set a precedent.
Amin had proposed an initial P30 billion for compensation pegged on the fair market value of the damaged properties.
Another proposal, this time by Lanao del Norte Rep. Khalid Dimaporo, is to adopt the model of the Human Rights Victims Compensation Law of 2013 whereby a board will assess the damaged properties using a points system. Compensation may be set from P176,000 to P1.76 million.
Sangcopan said the House committee on Mindanao affairs had approved Dimaporo’s proposal, which was reportedly the working draft for the House version of the compensation measure.
Not money but justice
The official estimate of damage from the five-month conflict is P19.3 billion.
Because the affected families had no part in the assessment done in 2018, Lininding said that cost was a gross underestimation as it excluded the value of properties in each home that was lost to fire, bombings and looting.
The looting of homes, in particular, is one factor that has been shelved in the accounting on the cost of the war.
Maranao civil society leader Amenodin Cali said the issue of compensation should not simply be construed in financial or monetary terms but also on the principles of accountability and justice.
“At the early stage of the war, our religious and traditional leaders offered to government that they be given the initiative to drive away the militants to spare the city from ruin. It fell on deaf ears, that’s why Marawi [was] turned into rubble,” Cali said.
“The MAA is the old Dansalan, the city bequeathed to us by our forebears, an invaluable heritage that represents our glorious past,” he said.
More than 1,000 bombs were dropped on the city, targeting the positions of IS militants, in the course of the war.
Some families are prevented from returning to their homes as they do not have titles over the lands, a requirement when applying for building permit.
Menchie Dangcal, whose family now lives in a temporary shelter, said their former dwelling sat on a piece of land that was part of a still undivided larger property. “All we have is the mother title,” she said.
Francisco Lara Jr., senior adviser of the nongovernmental group International Alert, said disputes over land were potential conflict flashpoints as families endeavor to rebuild their lives.
Lara said a study by his group showed that several areas in the city had various layers of ownership claims, some even extending toward Lake Lanao.
International Alert has documented some 200 cases of such disputes.
The ministry for human settlements and development of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao has recently organized a land dispute resolution committee and partnered with the task force to resolve these issues.
Lawyer Anna Tarhata Basman, a member of the Bangsamoro Parliament, shares Lara’s concerns about potential conflicts due to land disputes and the possible displacement of many families who are not allowed to go back to the publicly owned lands.
She urged that these issues be handled not by “imposing legal and formal processes” but by recognizing “traditional or unspoken agreements [that] have worked before.”
On Sunday, civil society leaders and relatives of those who died and who remained missing up to this day held a prayer at a public cemetery called the Maqbara to remember their dead and missing.
By mortician Danilo Capin’s estimate, some 317 unidentified bodies were buried in the Maqbara and 11 in a public cemetery in Iligan City, all retrieved from the battle zone.
Of the 317, one is a teenager who was killed by a sniper’s fire as he crossed the Agus River to escape.
The boy’s mother was not able to return to Iligan to claim his body by the time the dead bodies in Capin’s funeral parlor had to be hauled off to the Maqbara as his neighbors complained of the stench.
Maranao women’s leader Samira Gutoc said, “In whatever culture, we honor the dead. We should do so by taking the effort, whatever it takes, to identify those buried in the Maqbara.”
As for the living, Fernandez said the government’s slow rehabilitation of Marawi had compounded the agony of evacuees living in temporary shelters and with relatives, as they were hit by a succession of typhoons, and now the COVID-19 pandemic.
The slow pace of reconstruction shows in the way resources are allocated to bankroll Marawi’s rehabilitation program.
According to Zyza Nadine Suzara of the Institute for Leadership, Empowerment, and Democracy, of the P70 billion needed for Marawi’s reconstruction, only P17 billion was included in the national budget from 2018 to 2020. As of the end of 2020, a total of P15 billion was released.
According to Suzara, some P28 billion of Marawi’s rehabilitation is sourced from foreign loans, mostly from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, and an additional P998.7 million from China.
Another P9.5 billion has been provided through foreign grants from the European Union, the United States Agency for International Development, the Australian government and various United Nations agencies.
Suzara said funding for housing and other infrastructure was released only in 2019, with the bulk released the next year.
Construction work only began in earnest in April last year, only to be bogged down by health restrictions and resumed full blast by July.
The National Housing Authority completed clearing the MAA of debris, including unexploded bombs and mortars, only by the end of 2019.
Mayor Gandamra has assured Marawi residents who continue to live in the temporary shelters of their continued stay, amid the expected delay in the MAA’s rehabilitation.
Samira Datu Imam, one of the evacuees, said the dire conditions in these shelters were driving them to seek to return home soonest.
On Saturday, she joined about a hundred other evacuees in a motorcade around the city, airing their “exasperation” at their situation, four years after the siege.
A statement from 21 organizations grouped as the Marawi Advocacy Accompaniment noted that the evacuees “are living in tightly packed communities and squalid conditions, which make them more vulnerable to the continuing onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
These evacuees also put up with discrimination in their host communities.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees noted that close to 3,000 families in temporary shelters suffer from, among other conditions, insufficient water supply, increased health risks due to poor hygiene and sanitation arising from full septic tanks, clogged drainage and poor waste management.
“We are tired of this situation. We just want to go home,” Imam said.
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