PRIVILEGE SPEECH: Marawi City is our ancestral land which our forefathers have fought for since time immemorial

(Privilege speech delivered by Lanao del Sur 1st district Rep. Ansaruddin Adiong at the House of Representatives on 11 December 2017)

Bismillahi Rahmaniir Rahiim, In the name of Almighty God, the Most Beneficent, and the Most Merciful.

Assalamu Alaikum Warahmatullahi Wa Barakatuu.

Mr. Speaker, my distinguished colleagues of the 17th Congress, ladies and gentlemen, I rise on a matter of personal and collective privilege to thank President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, our men in uniform, and the Filipino people for standing with us in the darkest moment in the history of Marawi City.

Mr. Speaker, honorable colleagues, the Marawi Siege started on May 23, Tuesday afternoon, when the Armed Forces of the Philippines, in coordination with the Philippine National Police, conducted a raid in a safe house in Brgy. Basak Malutlut to try to capture Isnilon Hapilon, leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group. The joint surgical operation of the AFP/ and the PNP triggered a deadly firefight. Hapilon was able to escape the raid and consolidated his forces with the militants. Instead of retreating, they immediately brought the hostilities to various locations in the city.

The entire city/ was put on lockdown, power and communication lines were shut down/ as several buildings including the Marawi City jail, Cathedral of St. Mary, Sen. Ninoy Aquino College, Jpi College, and Dansalan College were set on fire. The militants also abducted church workers, teachers, blue-collar workers, and ordinary citizens.

Mr. Speaker, it is very difficult to comprehend the pain and hurt that we felt when our ancestral home, Kota which was built in the 1950’s by my grandparents ex-Senator Domocao Alonto and Hadja Mohmina Alonto, is now destroyed and flattened. The home that gave us our fondest and happiest memories is now gone and all that is left are pieces of glass and stones. Numerous other ancestral houses like the Malawalai of the late Congressman Haroun Alrashid Lucman Sr. and ex-Governor Tarhata Alonto Lucman built in the 1960s, historical landmarks, grand mosque built in the 1960s/ and masjids are now left in mess.

Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues, on May 24, Wednesday morning, thousands of residents who suffered the disorder caused by the militants the night before, emerged from their homes and took advantage of the break in fighting to flee Marawi City and seek refuge in Saguiaran, Lanao del Sur, municipalities in Lanao del Norte such as Pantar and Baloi, Iligan City, and Cagayan de Oro City. All modes of transportation, private and public, were full as people packed themselves. Residents piled themselves on top of trucks and jeepneys. Some families even chose to flee the city/ by boat.

Mr. Speaker, most of the displaced people evacuated for the first time in their lives. There had not been an exodus of this magnitude in the history of the city. As a result, the surge of vehicles caused massive traffic jams at the city’s exit points and clogged the major roads to Iligan City. The travel time from Marawi to Iligan is usually 30-40 minutes. But during that horrible day, it took the residents 8-12 hours to reach Iligan.

More painful, Mr. Speaker, were the images of women, children, and the old ones, carrying extremely heavy bags while traveling on foot. Even the patients confined in the Amai Pakpak Medical Center were forced to evacuate. These people braved the bad weather and walked roughly 40 kilometers to get away from the war zone and take shelter in evacuation centers.

As the firefight intensified in the subsequent days, the AFP used surgical air assaults to neutralize militants who are holed up in fortified structures.

Mr. Speaker, the Marawi Siege was the biggest security crisis to face the government in decades and the longest modern urban warfare in the history of the Philippines.

Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues, the Islamic City of Marawi known as the “capital of the south” is now in ruins, defiled by over five months of clashes between the government forces and the militants. The militants have unleashed so much chaos that this once majestic place is now reduced to rubble/ashes. If it weren’t for the bullet-riddled buildings, one might think a great earthquake caused the destruction.

However, it is not the blow on the socio-economic life that will persist in the hearts of my constituents, but the suffering and the misery they have felt when they lost their friends, neighbors, brothers, sisters, and their children. No amount of consolation will ever fill the void left in their hearts. They will forever remember having observed the whole month of Ramadhan in crowded evacuation centers, instead of their homes.

Mr. Speaker, our ancestors have fought countless foreign intruders for centuries to protect our homeland and preserve our culture. It is disgraceful how the radicals, whose ideologies run contrary to the tenets of Islam, can exploit and distort the narrative of social injustices against the Moro people to get more audience and supporters. Islam is a religion of peace, tolerance, and forgiveness.  Their actions are un-Islamic, and not humanly acceptable from any perspective. These militants do not represent the Moro people as sowing terror is opposite to the teachings of Islam or any other religion.

Mr. Speaker, honorable colleagues, let this representation be the voice in this august body as we condemn these disturbing acts of terror committed against the people of Marawi that have resulted in the loss of many innocent lives, the ravaging of homes, and the destruction of public structures and institutions. These militants ultimately want to drive a gap between Muslims and all Filipinos. We cannot wipe every evil from everyone, but we can curb bloodshed, inspire change, and continue to champion peace as the best solution.

Mr. Speaker, now that the war has finally ended, this representation wants to express his deep gratitude to our President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, Vice President Leni Robredo, Senate President Koko Pimentel, Senator Migz Zubiri, Senator Richard Gordon, Senator Sonny Angara, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, the Department Of National Defense (DND), the Armed Forces Of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police, the Philippine Coast Guard, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Department of Health, ARMM officials, LGUs, MinDA, other government agencies, media organizations, private foundations and organizations and individuals, our troops and policemen who have shown incredible courage and bravery in the past several months. We were truly reminded of the lengths of sacrifice our troops will go through in order to keep this nation safe. We also owe a great deal of appreciation to our doctors, nurses, and medical professionals who have shown kindness and dedication by saving lives and providing exceptional service to all those who needed medical attention.

This representation would also like to thank this honorable august body. I am standing in a room full of the most influential and generous people, and i am grateful that they have reached out and offered their unwavering support to the people of Marawi.

Mr. Speaker, this nightmare has indeed created a future full of uncertainties for my constituents. Terrible things do happen. It’s a part of life. It’s how we react to these hardships that will define our future. Distinguished colleagues, we must remain steadfast in our fight against violent militants and address the root causes of radicalism. This critical situation/ reminds this august chamber of our common attribute: the shared commitment to peace and justice. If we remain united in our values, we will prevent the radicalization of our youth and promote the importance of tolerance and understanding in our communities. We must stand together in solidarity with those who have died or injured, and show that an attack on any Filipino, regardless of tribe or religion, is an attack on all of us.  We must look out for each other, even if we come from/ different backgrounds and religions. Diversity was never a weakness of this country, but one of its greatest strengths.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to strongly emphasize that the militants never succeeded in convincing the residents to join them/ or even sympathize with them. Far from planting seeds of fear and hatred in the hearts of Maranaos, I see our resolve getting stronger, strangers becoming friends, families being re-united, and ordinary people becoming heroes. The Maranaos are known to be tough and resilient. Contrary to what these militants expected, this dreadful time brought out the best instincts and the best qualities in all of us. When one of us fell, someone was there to pick him up. When these militants showed the worst of humanity, we showed the best of humanity.

For several months, when the city was overtaken by militants, when the nights seemed darkest, when all hope seemed to be lost, the heroism of ordinary citizens reminded us of what truly matters — perseverance, compassion, and unity. In the face of war and impending danger, i saw citizens risking their lives in relief operations, medical missions, and rescue attempts. The sacrifices i have seen these volunteers make them exceptional. Words are not enough to express my gratitude to all of them. The courage they have shown has inspired a lot of people. This kind of heroism/ will never be forgotten, and will serve as the catalyst for the future leaders of this country.

Mr. Speaker, honorable colleagues, I fully support the President and share his sentiments that the best investment we can make is in our children. They are our greatest natural resource and our greatest asset. They are our future and they are the ones who will push this nation forward. No act of violence or terror will ever damage our faith in their potential to be peace-loving leaders and agents of change. We depend on them as much as they depend on us.  We trust in our capabilities and experiences as we teach them how to deal with difficult and critical situations. A foundation of un-selfish service, a culture of compassion and understanding, and the pursuit of just and lasting peace are the greatest legacy we can leave them. And so, i would like to appeal to this august chamber to support our government’s efforts to reconstruct and rehabilitate our ruined city, as this is the first step/ to heal the wounds, bring about peace, and inspire our children.

Mr. Speaker and honorable colleagues, adding to the internally displaced persons fear and suffering is the thought that they have no land that they could really claim their own. Many IDPs have openly and exclusively possessed their residential lots prior to 1953 but they do not hold/ titles to them. Of the Marawi City’s total land area of 8,396 hectares, 6,625 hectares was reserved for military purposes. On Dcember 23, 1953, then President Elpidio Quirino issued Proclamation 453, series of 1953, reserving for military purposes a portion of the public domain situated in the city of Dansalan (now Marawi City), island of Mindanao.

As part of the rehabilitation plans of the Task Force Bangon Marawi, we therefore appeal to our beloved President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and the Secretary of Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), to issue a proclamation amending Proclamation no. 453, and declaring the portion occupied by our constituents as open for disposition for the bona-fide residents under the provisions of Act no. 3038 in relation to the provisions of the Public Land Act or Commonwealth Act No. 141, as amended, subject to final survey if necessary. Portions which are already used for public purposes shall be excluded. Marawi City is our ancestral land which our forefathers have fought for since time immemorial.

May Allah (SWT), the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful, bless all of those we lost in the siege, heal the wounded, and continue to watch over this country that we call home.

Thank you mr. Speaker, thank you, distinguished colleagues.

Mabuhay ang pilipinas!

Assalamu alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh.