PRIVILEGE SPEECH: Marawi IDPs have sacrificed so much

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(Privilege Speech on Marawi, delivered by Akbayan Senator Risa Hontiveros on August 13, 2019)

Mr. President, I rise on a point of personal and collective privilege.

Yesterday, many of us were enjoying a day off from work and school as we joined our Muslim sisters and brothers in celebration of Eid al-Adha, or the Festival of Sacrifice, commemorating the story of God appearing before Ibrahim or Abraham commanding him to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience. As one of the most important holidays in the Islamic calendar, Muslim families celebrate by gathering for specially-prepared meals, visiting friends and relatives, while children are usually given money and new clothes. But as this joyous event was being celebrated all over the world, I was also sadly reminded of the situation of our Muslim kababayans still suffering in evacuation centers in Marawi and in the two provinces of Lanao, more than two years after the Marawi siege.

I don’t think anybody will disagree with me when I say life in an evacuation center, if you could call it that – “life”, is hard. Imagine the cramped living arrangements and the lack of privacy, the heat, the noise, the smell and the unsanitary conditions, and the shortage in food and scarce supply of clean water. All of these are in and of themselves, problems. But these difficulties breed a complex of other problems as obvious as the dearth of livelihood opportunities. There are also the less immediately visible ordeals internally displaced persons (IDPs) have to go through.

Take the case of a 16-year old who a news article hides behind the name “Fatima”.[1] Fatima and her family fled Marawi when fighting broke out between government forces and the Maute in May 2017. They ended up in an evacuation center in Saguiaran, Lanao del Sur. Their makeshift cubicle in the town’s function hall, just like any other living space in many evacuation centers is made of malong, blankets, tarpaulins, and pieces of plywood strung together to give them a little privacy. Crudely constructed toilets and bathrooms are unsegregated. Under these conditions, Fatima found herself sexually assaulted by a boy who entered their living quarters on two occasions while she was all alone. After she repelled the boy twice, a group of teenagers who Fatima believes were the boy’s friends ganged-up and beat her up. Despite her reporting these incidents to authorities, the perpetrators went punished.

Poor living conditions in evacuation centers, such as the lack of electricity increases the vulnerabilities of women and children to gender-based violence. An assessment conducted jointly by the UN and other non-government organizations in partnership with local and national government agencies[2] revealed that 45% of the areas hosting the internally displaced in Marawi, Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte reported that girls were the most affected by sexual violence with those over the age of 14 as the most vulnerable. Cases of violence can also lead to sexual and reproductive health outcomes such as unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, and other mental health psycho-social consequences like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress. We should also note with alarm the culture of silence bred by the cultural taboo that accompanies gender-based violence. Many of these incidents remain underreported because of the stigma, the apparent shame and dishonor they bring to the family of the victim. As a result, there are instances in which the victim, as a way to save face and restore the family honor, is forced to marry her abuser.

Mr. President, these are the situations facing women and girls in evacuation centers, and I am sure men face their own challenges, as well. As of April 2019, the UNHCR or the UN Refugee Agency reported that 1,092 families were still in evacuation centers, 2,157 families in transitory shelters, and 22,574 families home-based IDPs.[3] Of the 4,852 transitory shelters Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM) plans to build, only 36% of the structures have been completed.[4]

The slow progress in reaching the target has been blamed on the scarcity of land in Marawi and the difficulty in securing permits for borrowed property for construction to start. While these dilemmas are always part of post-conflict reconstruction, I hope the Task Force is reminded that they have the full backing of State power and infrastructure, and can also find ample support from the private sector and different non-government entities, and foreign governments. They only have to think of the almost 40,000 families who are still in need of decent housing, and to return to their homes.

This is the clamor amplified in the State of the Marawi Bakwit or SOMBak 2019[5] mounted by IDPs led by the Moro Consensus Group on the same day President Duterte delivered his own State of the Nation Address. There, bakwits took turns describing their miserable living conditions over the last two years. Those living in tents that are intended to last for only six months are no longer provided with adequate protection against the elements.

Sabi nga ng isang nagsalitang bakwit, bukod sa manipis at mabaho na yung “bahay” nilang trapal kapag tirik na ang araw ay hindi na nila matagalan ang init sa loob ng tent. At sa gabing malamig naman ang panahon, sobra naman ang lamig. Also, the ordinary wear and tear on these canvas shelters have made them too light and delicate to sufficiently protect the bakwit from the wind and rain.

These are the reasons why I join them in their dismay, even frustration that the President made no mention of the Marawi rehabilitation in his most anticipated SONA speech. Instead, his only reference to Marawi was on the problem of illegal drugs. Ako rin po ay nagtataka, Mr. President, that in his most important address to the nation, President Duterte overlooked a very significant part of the country’s national situation.

After all, it is still fresh in our collective memory as it was not too long ago that he ordered the military assault and bombardment that displaced almost 370,000 individuals, and left Marawi in ruins with damages estimated at P11.5 billion and losses at P7 billion.[6] And this is not counting the P72 billion required to rebuild the city.

Access to clean water and sanitation are a constant problem in evacuation centers and transitory sites. In Sagonsongan and Sarimanok Tent City, non-government organizations provide the trucks that supply them water. However, by the end of June 2019, one of these NGOs would have already ceased its operation in the area.[7] Some septic tanks are already full, and needs desludging. Some latrines have to be closed because of insufficient water supply. Water is one of our most basic needs as human beings. Tayo nga dito sa Maynila ay hirap kapag ilang oras nawawalan ng tubig. Isipin na lang natin ang kalagayan ng mga bakwit ng Marawi na dalawang taon nang walang maayos na pagkukuhanan ng tubig, na ultimo pag-sipilyo at paghilamos ay di regular na magagawa. And I need not say the health risks brought about by the lack of water and proper sanitation. Kaya marami na ring nagkakasakit sa mga evacuation centers. As reported in the Asian Development Bank’s Emergency Assistance for Reconstruction and Recovery of Marawi, there have been civilian fatalities in shelters and health facilities due to pneumonia, sepsis, and complications brought about by acute gastroenteritis.[8]

Another key challenge to the IDPs of Marawi is access to information. While they receive information on schedules of distribution of assistance and Kathanor or profiling activities, information doesn’t regularly reach the 23,000 families living in home-based shelters, especially those located in remote areas. In my consultation with IDPs and visit to an evacuation center in Iligan a few months after the siege, some of the bakwits told me that the Meranaos, as a people of pride many would rather live with relatives under extremely inconvenient conditions rather than stay in evacuation centers. This is why many IDPs are considered home-based as they are being housed by their relatives by the dozens in small and cramped spaces. It is this scattered situation of IDPs that poses a challenge not only to information dissemination but also to the distribution of assistance.

While we talk about the IDP situation in various evacuation centers and other forms of temporary shelter, and their desire go back to their homes and pick-up the pieces of their traumatized lives, I am surprised to learn that the government has no plans of paying for the construction of their houses and buildings destroyed in the fighting. Allow me to show you a short video clip of an interview with Secretary Eduardo Del Rosario, Chairperson of Task Force Bangon Marawi. (play video) It troubles me, Mr. President that Marawi residents cannot expect the government to pay for the damage Government itself has caused, levelling their homes and making them uninhabitable.

And to add insult to injury, and extending this appalling response, residents will have to secure a permit to repair or construct their houses by going through an application process that requires quite a number of documents, entailing substantial cost in the process. Among the documents they have to present are land titles and deeds that include a certified copy of the Transfer Certificate of Title, Tax Declaration of the lot, Real Property Tax of the current year, plus construction plans, zoning receipts, barangay clearance, and Bureau of Internal Revenue clearance.

Construction plans must be officially attested by an engineer and an architect, by a registered Electrical Engineer in case of an electrical plan, by a registered Mechanical Engineer in case of a mechanical plan, and by a registered Sanitary Engineer or Master Plumber in case of a sanitation plan. These professional services don’t come for free, and neither are they cheap. Mr. President, why are we making it harder for our Marawi sisters and brothers to rebuild their homes? It’s not as if they haven’t suffered enough. And to top it all off, they cannot expect any compensation from government for the destruction of their homes.

More than two years after the siege, Marawi residents have yet to get their lives back together. There are those who could no longer wait for government’s promise to rebuild their devastated city, and just opted to relocate and try their luck elsewhere. But there are more of those who are left with very little options but to struggle it out in evacuation centers, trying to hang on to their dream of returning to their homes and continuing with their lives. Here in the Senate, I am heartened by the fact that our Majority Floor Leader, Senator Migz Zubiri has filed Resolution No. 66 reconstituting the Special Committee on the Marawi Rehabilitation. That being said, I look forward to and commit my active participation in Committee deliberations.

I also call on Task Force Bangon Marawi to ease the hardships of the IDPs by ensuring that they are adequately consulted on the city’s rehabilitation and reconstruction plans, by accelerating the rebuilding process particularly the construction of permanent housing and other vital infrastructure, and in this process of reconstruction guaranteeing respect for the Meranao culture and way of life.

Mr. President, it is my hope that we do not give Eid al-Adha or the Feast of Sacrifice a new meaning by asking the IDPs of Marawi to sacrifice even more. They did not deserve this displacement, they did not deserve to have their lives turned upside down. They have sacrificed enough.

 

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