In line with the commemoration of the 3rd anniversary of the infamous “Marawi Siege”—a tragic event that befell the people of Marawi City three years ago during the Holy Month of Ramadan—Meranaw civil society leaders today held an hour of conversation in Iligan City dubbed “BALIK MARAWI: SA PANAHON NG BAGONG GYERA (Conversations on Internal Displacement, Ramadan, and COVID-19)”.
Three years since the war that turned the whole of Marawi City into rubble, thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) residing at ground zero or the 24-barangay group of residents from the most affected areas (MAA) of the once peaceful and progressive city have yet to return to their homes. The Mindanao Displacement Dashboard of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported that 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.
During the conversation in Iligan, the Meranaw civil society leaders said, “The Bakwits (evacuees) are highly vulnerable especially now that we have a global health crisis. Additionally, many IDPs migrated to the National Capital Region (NCR) and other parts of the country. This multiple-displacement aggravated by the government’s delayed clearing operations have deprived the bakwits of much-needed income for survival”.
SAFE AND DIGNIFIED RETURN
Sultan Abdul Hamidullah Atar lamented that ‘the displaced residents of Marawi especially in the MAA who have yet to return home are now again in the midst of another war, a continuing siege brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic’.
The public health crisis led the government to roll out containment measures through the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID). Life is doubly hard for home-based IDPs and those in transitory shelters since they are severely affected by the disproportionate impact of the pandemic to their safety, health, and livelihood. “Due to a prolonged displacement, they remain to be highly vulnerable since the failure to rebuild Marawi is a continuing disruption as well”, Sultan Atar continued.
It can be recalled that Meranaw civic leaders have urged for the resignation of the Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM) Secretary Eduardo del Rosario citing the failure of the task force’s rehabilitation program in Marawi and demanded a congressional inquiry on the delay and alleged reports on corruption.
Amenodin Cali of the Kalimudan sa Ranao Foundation stressed, ‘They (TFBM) have a consistent supply of excuses during our dialogues with them as to why until now we can’t finally go home. It has been three years of waiting in vain. Our demand is simple: safe, dignified, and unconditional return to the MAA in Marawi City by the IDPs including those in diaspora nationwide’.
TFBM lately announced the extended deadline of the Marawi rehabilitation to December 2021, Samira Gutoc, a Meranaw civic leader, emphasized “this is overkill and superfluous, TFBM should open the MAA the soonest, prioritize shelter reconstruction with fewer conditionalities and not wait for the completion of large-scale infrastructures. Allow us to live the ‘new normal’ in Dansalan (Marawi), our place of origin”.
Alluding to President Rodrigo Duterte’s Executive Order 114 institutionalizing the ‘Balik-Probinsya, Balik-Pagasa’ program (BP2) to decongest Metro Manila amid the COVID-19 and balance regional development, Drieza Lininding of the Moro Consensus Group said “much attention is given to the BP2 program as a national relocation strategy of the government, but why have they forgotten Marawi? Just months ago during our dialogue in Malacanan, the President had promised to fast track the rehabilitation plan. We have long been demanding for “Balik-Marawi”, our version towards durable return to fully rebuild our lives’.
He added, ‘The Balik-Probinsya program, if effectively localized, is an opportunity to extend amelioration scheme to the IDPs, decongest the temporary shelter sites, facilitate the return of ‘home-based’ IDPs, and spare them the potential double whammy of being infected with COVID-19.”
Lininding explained, “In our proposal for Balik Marawi, the Meranaws will not be traveling thousands of miles to return home. Only a few kilometers. It’s unfortunate however that this simple dream has been a distant prospect for three years now.”
To comprehensively respond to the public health crisis anchored on other parallel insecurities and vulnerabilities such as prolonged displacement and poverty, Meranaw civil society leaders also demand to make the IDPs front and center of all social protection programs currently being implemented by the IATF-EID.
Apart from the imperatives on IDP participation, accountability and governance in post-reconstruction, Sittie Joharah Mamacotao, a young IDP woman leader from the ground zero had finally reminded, “we will relentlessly pursue the centrality of addressing justice issues of the surviving families and children of those who have gone missing and died during the siege, who after three years remain unidentified and unnamed”.
The displaced residents of Marawi, who are on ‘quarantined’ celebration during the Holy Month of Ramadan, have been living several versions of their ‘new normal’ in the last three years. They just have to continue to build their resiliency and preserve the memory of a recent past in order for the society to learn from this tragedy, prevent the future spiral of conflict and violence, and manage this continuing disruption during the pandemic.
For inquiries: Gani Abunda II , 0961-3567397, Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID)