• Melo Acuna

Marawi residents remember commitments made three years ago

Uncertainty shrouds Marawi City after three years as Catholic faith remains steadfast

MANILA – At about 2:00 P.M. on this day, three years ago, fighting erupted between soldiers and militants from the Maute Group at Basak Malutlut in Marawi City. The battle for the city left over a thousand persons dead including 160 government soldiers and policemen in a span of nearly five months.

Military sources said 802 fighters were killed with at least 47 non-combatants. Graphic photos and footages showed the intense fighting and aerial bombardments to force the enemies of the state to abandon their cause.

However, three years after the bloody siege, the affected residents still remain hopeful the government’s promises of better lives would still be realized.

In an interview over Melo Acuna Reports, Prof. Francisco Lara, senior adviser of International Alert said they have monitored activities of ISIS-inclined groups trying to convince the youth to join their cause.

“Failure to resume normal lives, go back to school, land decent jobs, they may be convinced to consider the militant’s alternatives,” he said.

However, he said assistance to the affected Marawi City residents come from the local government units as well as international organizations like the Red Cross, Save the Children, United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and several others. The Ayala Foundation has also made its presence felt by engaging the Maranao youth in a number of development projects.

“After three years, hindi pa naaayos ang rehabilitasyon,” Lara said. He added with the COVID-19 pandemic, displaced people cramped in makeshift or temporary shelters, the possibility that they would get sick remains high.

Marawi Bishop Edwin Dela Pena said three years after the Siege of Marawi, “nothing much happened since then.”

In his Facebook post, Bishop Dela Pena said “Ground Zero” remains an image of destruction ‘reminiscent of the early days of the siege.”

“All the IDP-residents of Ground Zero are still in temporary shelters while we, residents of St. Mary Cathedral compound of the Catholic prelature of Marawi in Barrio Paypay are still living in exile in Barangay Maria Critina, Balo-i, Lanao del Norte,” he added.

He added the future for all of them is still uncertain because they have been “overtaken by events, the most recent of which were the Taal Volcano eruption, COVID-19 pandemic, and Tropical Cyclone Ambo, that have relegated us to the backdoor of history, to the point of bring completely forgotten from the national psyche.”

It pains the displaced people to see their severely damaged community which took a look tie to clear of debris. Prof. Lara said local residents have relied on the local leaders, their datus and local government officials.

The leaders of Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) are still focused on reorganizing the regional set-up and may take time before they get to run and manage the whole region.

Task Force Bangon Marawi still has to make its presence felt as the national government laid-out widescale plans to improve not only the Most Affected Area (MAA).

“While they have cleared certain areas of debris, three years after the siege, there’s no water system, no electric power, no sewerage system,” Prof. Lara added.

While concerned lawmakers have pushed for the passage of Marawi Siege Victims Compensation Act, it has been overtaken by COVID-19 concerns and may not be acted upon by both House of Congress due to limited session days.

Bishop Dela Pena said his message during the Marawi Siege’s first anniversary remains relevant to this very day.

“The five-month long siege left the once idyllic city (often referred to as the Summer Capital of the South because of its refreshingly cool weather), in almost total devastation the scale of which is often compared to the destruction. Of the cities of Mosul in Iraq and Aleppo in Syria.”

Bishop Dela Pena referred to the high economic cost of the war in terms of properties and livelihood resulted in “deeper impoverishment” of people already considered poorest by national standards.

In a separate interview, Bishop Dela Peña said inter-religious dialogue was seen effective even during the height of the armed conflict as Moslems protected Catholics and Christians in the city.

“There were Moslems who negotiated with the Maute Group to allow the safe passage of Christians out of the conflict,’ Bishop Dela Pena said.

He expressed gratitude to faith-based groups and foreign organizations who assisted them in their hours of need.

Prof. Lara doubts things will change for the better for both the internally displaced persons (IDPs) and the city itself before President Duterte’s term ends in June 30,2022. “There are Zamboanga City residents who still have to be resettled after the September 9,2013 attack by the elements sympathetic to Nur Misuari,” he said.

Even with Executive Order No. 114 which institutionalizes the concept of convincing Metro Manila residents to return to the provinces, there may be no takers from the Moslems in densely populated National Capital Region.

May uuwian ba, attractive ba? May trabaho bas a Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao?” Professor Lara asked.

He said International Alert has programs for women and youth.

“We capacitate them to design their own projects and improve their lives. We also have programs for women widowed by the armed conflict,” he said. He added they also monitor events on the ground and provide immediate response to specific areas where possible violence may erupt.

“We also help in land disputes between Moslems, Moslems and Indigenous Peoples and settlers as there are instances where there are overlapping claims. We are in Maguindanao, in areas near Mamasapano, Sulu and in Marawi and Lanao del Sur,” he explained.

“The government needs to learn how to deal with our brother Moslems so they will not feel discriminated and neglected,” Professor Lara concluded as he called on the national government not to renege on their promises of better lives for the internally-displaced persons of Marawi City and its environs because they value commitments by respectable government officials.

Bishop Dela Pena called on everyone, Moslems and Catholics to remain united “Hanggang sa Makabangong Muli ang Marawi!” (Let us remain united until Marawi rises again!) (Melo M. Acuña)

Bishop Edwin Dela Peña during his visit to the severely-damaged Mary Help of Christians Cathedral, the devastated Bishop's Residence, photos from Ground Zero and the view of Marawi City from Mindanao State University. (Photos from Prelature of Marawi and Melo Acuna Files)

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