OUR MARAWI: Transitional Justice-Dealing with the Past and Marawi

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“In the guise of rebuilding our homes, in the guise of laying down the foundations of a better, progressive and modern city, the will and vision of those who live far from us who built this city are being imposed upon us. This is an invasion of a different kind. This one threatens to rob our soul.”Ranao Multi Sectoral Movement (RMSM)

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 12 April) — While measures to avoid fueling or creating new tensions (or what are called ‘dividers’) and those that build up local peace capacities (or ‘connectors’) are important, they may not be enough to heal the rifts that the Marawi war and its consequences created and ensure that no future conflicts of a similar nature occur.

The Case for TJ-DwP in Marawi

Transitional Justice-Dealing with the Past (TJ-DwP) became more known in the Philippine peace and development mainstream as part of the implementation of the Normalization aspect of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro or CAB, but it could also be part of a set of lynchpins for effectively responding to the problems spawned by the crisis that exploded beginning May 23, 2017 and affected Marawi City and other parts of Lanao del Sur.

Efforts have been made to make responses to the post-crisis situation in Marawi and Lanao del Sur conflict-sensitive and peace-promoting. These include the conduct of post-conflict needs assessment under the Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM), the inter-agency mechanism for recovery, rehabilitation, and reconstruction of the city and other affected areas in the province. Peace advocates, emergency response providers, and local civil society have also been engaging in dialogues and other processes to enable those affected to deal with conflict-related trauma.

TJ-DwP was formally put forward by the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) in its report to the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). If pursued as a national undertaking in support of the political process and translated into inter-related specific measures, TJ-DwP could serve as a comprehensive framework for responding to the human rights violations, legitimate grievances, marginalization through land dispossession, and historical injustice experienced by the Bangsamoro, which the TJRC was tasked to study and provide recommendations that could bring about healing and reconciliation.

In what could be a case of the continuing past, these same four challenges that form part of the Bangsamoro ‘problem’ are also categories of hurts and harms that Meranaws could say have been spawned by the Marawi war.

Displaced Meranaws of Marawi City call for “genuine participation” of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Marawi’s rehabilitation during the “M’balingan Tano sa Ground Zero” rally on Friday, March 30, 2018 in the country’s lone Islamic city. Photo courtesy of LEAH TARHATA MEHILA

Cases of violations of individual and collective human rights have been documented by the regional government’s own Regional Human Rights Commission and by rights groups such as Amnesty International, Kalinaw Mindanao, and Mindanao People’s Peace Movement. Grievances are many, the most current being around planning the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the destroyed city. If not handled prudently, the complicated land and property rights issues in Marawi could solidify the temporary dislocation suffered by the internally displaced persons (IDPs) into outright land dispossession. Years hence, the destruction of Marawi could be likened to the 1974 burning of Jolo—gross injustice the echoes of which would be felt across time and place and referred to by people as a defining historical point of their struggles.

The United Nations defines transitional justice as “the full range of processes and mechanisms associated with a society’s attempts to come to terms with the legacy of large-scale HR abuses, in order to ensure accountability, serve justice and achieve reconciliation.” But to overcome narrow identification with courts and judicial processions, advocates and practitioners link it to Dealing with the Past (DwP), which refers to long-term, more encompassing, and more inclusive processes to address serious cases of human rights violations, hence TJ-DwP.

Many peacebuilding and post-crises frameworks abound. But TJ-DwP is set apart by its recognition that victims and perpetrators are not as separated, mutually exclusive, and fixed categories as most views about conflict hold, and its adherence to four pillars—the rights to truth, justice, reparation, and guarantee against non-recurrence—that could be used as platforms for defining appropriate measures and mechanisms.

Mo Bleeker, Chair of TJRC noted that TJ-DwP is most effective when civilian victims and perpetrators are “proximate in time and space,” which could be said of what transpired in Marawi. The Dawlah Islamiyyah who were responsible for the attacks that began May 23 are identified with the Maute clan and other Meranaw families. Observers and even government officials acknowledge that dissatisfaction and resentment could combine with other factors and create conditions that could make the victims of today receptive to overtures and lead them to paths supportive of more extreme options.

While there are those who believe that the level of military action was necessary to liberate Marawi, some Meranaws also hold that the Philippine government, by its deliberate use of airstrikes and heavy artillery, is co-responsible for the destruction of 24 of the city’s 96 barangays.  Thus, the Ranao Multi Sectoral Movement (RMSM) in their March 30, 2018 statement said that while they understand the urgencies that led to the war, they also disagree on “the manner it was waged and won.” The irony for those who hold this view is that the same State forces could become further entrenched in Marawi with the plan to build another military camp in the city.

Meranaws who currently feel victimized by the war and its consequences cannot be expected to resolve their trauma by themselves and overcome their sense of victimization and resentments against the perpetrators that they hold responsible for the destruction of Marawi. While groups like the RMSM and traditional and civil society leaders are working to unite and mobilize those displaced, much more needs to be overcome to rebuild social cohesion and reclaim local abilities to manage internal differences and divisions. It will also take more than a two-day multisectoral forum for Meranaws to be able to trust State armed forces.

Recognition and fulfillment of the four pillars of TJ-DwP is vital in situations of massive human rights violations. Disregard for the rights situation in Marawi is ‘massive’ in that what have been affected and further stand to be affected in the face of the deaths, dislocation, and losses caused by the five-month war are not only civil and economic rights, but also political, social, and cultural ones.  The RMSM warning that “forces are moving that threaten to do far greater damage to our people than what the war has done” spotlights the immensity of political, social, and cultural rights violations. In the group’s statement, it charged that imposition of the “will and vision of those who live far from us who built this city” is considered as “an invasion of a different kind” and “threatens to rob our soul.”

The actual and symbolic effects of the Marawi war cannot be treated as if it were a matter of responding to disaster.  The parallelisms between the Marawi war and the burning of Jolo are not only in terms of the damage wrought and the consequences to the locality and the population, but also to their rallying function.

Officials under the Duterte administration have mentioned that they do not want to repeat the mistakes committed in Tacloban in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda. But while Marawi and Tacloban may be considered similar in terms of the extent of damage sustained from disasters, the former cannot be approached by only tweaking and applying responses made to the latter. Thus, lessons from Tacloban’s rehabilitation could be useful; but cannot be the only reference. Marawi is distinct not only because its destruction was human-induced and could be triggered again but also because the people of Tacloban were not kept out of their residences for nearly a year (and thus not kept seething in growing anxiety and mounting anger).

Planning the Recovery and Rehabilitation of Marawi: More Grievances

From the pronouncements of the TFBM leadership, it seems all that are called for are a “development plan” that would utilize sound land use and urban planning parameters and security forces that would keep out armed groups.

But Marawi is not just about planning for development and maintaining security, which are staple concerns of most localities in the country. Marawi would have to be about systematically addressing human rights violations, legitimate grievances, and possible marginalization due to land dispossession, and preventing the rise of another historical injustice. To use a contemporary phrase that communicates both rationale and viability, Marawi is ‘TJ-able.’

The details of operationalizing TJ-DwP will obviously have to be fleshed out by Marawi stakeholders. But TJ-DwP can be a handy reference to mandated bodies such as TFBM in the consideration of a variety of measures and mechanisms for concerns that remain unaddressed nearly a year to the day the conflict openly broke out.

Meranaws and the rest of Philippine society need to know the truths about the five months of war. The victims have to be identified and memorialized, and the survivors recognized.  Justice will have to be meted out for the different infractions committed against civilians and various parties held accountable when and where possible. Combinations of concrete and symbolic forms of reparation for survivors and the larger community will have to be put in place. Beyond installing another military camp, earnest measures to ensure the non-recurrence of another Marawi of May to October 2017 are called for.

RMSM criticized what it considered a lack of civilian participation in the development of the plans for Marawi’s rehabilitation and recovery. Samira Gutoc, Meranaw woman leader and organizer of the Ranao Rescue Team, has been consistent in advocating for civilian voices to be heard, respected, and responded to at the height of the Marawi crisis and its aftermath. Her group and other organizations submitted a position paper to the Senate recommending the amendment of the executive order covering TFBM to make the membership of civilian leaders mandatory.

RMSM also charged that “the plans neither bear the stamp of our will nor reflect our culture” and that the “mechanics and implementation are not clear to us.” The group reacted to the announcement that the Bangon Marawi Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Recovery Program (BMCRRP), which TFBM is tasked to develop and implement, was only confined to areas outside the 24 barangays regarded as the most affected area or MAA.

In a report by Mindanews, Secretary Eduardo del Rosario, head of TFBM and the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, announced in early April that the Bangon Marawi Consortium (BMC) will undertake the Ground Zero development plan that will cover the 250-hectare MAA, which is home to an estimated 27,000 families, although only 11,163 of them are considered homeowners.

BMC is led by a company owned by the Chinese government and initially composed of five Chinese and four Filipino businesses. One of the Filipino firms later opted not to join the consortium.  The BMC proposal will have to be subjected to the “Swiss Challenge” described by Secretary del Rosario as a faster “hybrid mode of public bidding.” Only after the winning developer has finished planning, debris clearing, and site development will the IDPs from MAA be able to rebuild, a milestone projected to take place in early 2020.

The negative reactions are understandable. Since the establishment of the TFBM, the BMCRRP had been the focus of planning, with many groups undertaking initiatives to enable IDPs and the local governments of Marawi and Lanao del Sur to prepare for and influence plan preparation. For the displaced women and men of Marawi to learn only much later that there is another plan, that an external group will lead it, and that their hopes to return are ultimately subject to it is infuriating.

Secretary del Rosario further explained in another news that the initial development plan is intended to be “cascaded to all sectors” as a “top-bottom-up process” and alleged that the RMSM “refuses to listen, understand andaccept” it.

However, the notion of ‘cascading’ only accentuates the power imbalance and dynamics against which the Meranaw are chafing. Drieza Lininding, chair of the Moro Consensus Group, in a February 2018 social media post lamented in reaction to guidelines released by the National Housing Authority that it is “as if we don’t exist and deserve any rights over our land and properties.”

Among the defining principles of the TJ-DwP pillar right to compensation is the satisfaction of the aggrieved. Thus, it is not up to the TFBM alone to decide whether its explanations are adequate and sufficient. It will have to be worked out with those affected. This does not mean giving in to whim and caprice. But it will necessitate going beyond the usual practices undertaken in ‘normal’ times of relative peace and order to bring the displaced into the circle of discussion and deliberations and address their sense of exclusion and powerlessness to which they are obviously reacting.

The developments in March and April 2018 related to planning for Marawi have made prospects more opaque and have further heightened IDP apprehensions.

Nevertheless, any rehabilitation and reconstruction perceived to be cloaked in subterfuge will not work and more so in a highly-charged setting; and accusing IDPs of recalcitrance will not reduce but heighten their sense of being ‘othered’ instead. Indeed, these sound like more abuses that will feed grievances and are the makings of another historical injustice, which will be viewed as such when Mindanawons and other Filipinos look back on this time.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. OUR Marawi is open to anyone who wishes to share his/her thoughts on what is happening in Marawi. Mags Z. Maglana is a Mindanawon who has worked in various capacities over the past 30 years for peace, good governance, sustainable development, and the promotion of human rights. Maglana is one of the convenors of Konsyensya Dabaw. Please email feedback to magszmaglana@gmail.com)

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