OUR MARAWI: Two years after Marawi’s liberation: hopeful or hopeless?

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MARAWI CITY (MindaNews / 16 October) — It is prudent to say that a war without limits is a war without end.

This is how I portray the experience of our beloved Marawi City. The city has been liberated from the militant youth groups after more than five months of intense fighting in 2017. The government used all available military might to defeat the enemy at the expense of the civilian lives, properties and dignity.

The war is already gone but conflict has just started. The victorious claim of the armed forces is steep after all the excessive power was utilized during the fighting.

According to data from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), there are still around 124,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Ground Zero. Two years after liberation, they have yet to return home.

Complex narratives and experiences have been shared by the IDPs not only during the siege but after “liberation.”

While there were some positive insights revealed by the displaced families in the evacuation sites and the home-based areas on the government and private interventions to fast track their recovery, most narratives are feelings of frustrations, hopelessness, desperation and misery.

Without concrete achievement for the IDP situation, the leadership of the Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM) must be changed.

Most of the IDPs are still in limbo. They are demanding the right to return to their villages to start rebuilding their destroyed houses and overcome the psychological impact of being displaced, which is being disregarded by the government.

Full access to their properties is their right. The TFBM expressed that the presence of unexploded bombs in the war torn areas is the major hindrance why they are not allowed to return.

This argument is ambivalent because the extraction of unexploded bomb had been budgeted in 2018 which manifests the inefficient leadership of the TFBM and other government agencies to fast track the rehabilitation.

The strong demand to return to our respective and original place is a right and not a privilege as enshrined in our Constitution and international laws. Most of us are tired and hopeless in our call and quest for our right to liberty of abode.

The TFBM identified at least 6,800 structures inside the MAA for private structures. Accordingly, almost half of the homeowners have not signed the waiver for the demolition of their damaged houses because it is still habitable and requires only minor repair.

The government promised to follow diligently the guidelines set by them on the process of demolition. However, illegal demolition of hundreds of houses took place not only in sector 1 of Barangay Daguduban but in other sectors as approved by the City Government.

The affected residents were grievously offended and their rights have been violated. The said illegal demolition is a big mistake of the government and the contractors who did the demolition without due process. Whoever is involved in the illegal demolition will face legal consequences in the coming days.

The government had a lot of reasons to deny our call to return until our properties were illegally demolished. The sincerity of the TFBM and the City Government to ensure the demolition of private properties based on legal means was violated. The affected IDPs for the illegal demolition is hopeless to address thier grievances in a short period of time.

The presentation of the TFBM in many dialogues is not new. It is a recycled inpus. The issue on the management and proper documentation of the missing and dead persons is forgotten. Respecting thhe rights of the missing and dead are important steps for reconciliation but they were disregarded in the past two years.

The state obligation is to protect the lives and property of the people. However, for more than two years, the thousands of families-victims feel hopeless and abandoned by the government.

The government through TFBM believes that their program is IDP-centered, culturally sensitive and holistic and promotes social cohesion and peacebuilding. But the TFBM program to commemorate Marawi’s liberation is insensitive – concert, tour and fun run.

Until now, there are dozens of Masjid inside Ground Zero which have not been restored and yet you plan for a concert. But when thousands of IDPs wanted to go to Ground Zero last year to pray for the civilians who were died during the siege, the TFBM stopped us.

Today, it is easier for you to mount a program to celebrate the second anniversayr of the “liberation,” but in reality, there is nothing to celebrate.”

Our place is not for tour purposes. You want to showcase to the world that we are happy which in fact we are not. We are always hopeless for your action.

We wonder how we could attain peacebuilding if the government is continuously insensitive to the IDP situation and denies human rights issues.

Denying the basic human rights is tantamount to denying their human existence.

We wonder why we are afraid to discuss the issue of human rights if there is nothing to hide. A civilized and democratic country should respect human rights. The more we deny the basic human rights of the war victims, the more it will create collective hatred against the government.

What the victims of conflict are demanding is support from the government to document the civilian casualties and provide them justice through reparation for the closure of Marawi issues. Hence, this time, the IDP victims for human rights are hopeless to attain justice.

Two years after liberation, the government has continuously showed denial as a result of hypocrisy and arrogance.

Every civilian in Marawi is hopeful for a bright and happy family. However, they cannot move forward and trust the government if the demands for documentation and investigation are not given attention, including the resources poured into the city.

The IDPs have the right to know.

Stakeholders in Marawi believe that hundreds of people who died during the siege were trapped or captured by the militant group forcibly and their families are still in pain and agony in demanding justice.

The demand for documentation is valid because the ultimate role and function of the state enshrined in our Constitution is to protect the people and its properties. Similarly, our local and national leaders are reluctant to discuss the alleged stealing and looting done inside and outside the MAA during and after the siege.

Finally, the controversy on the plan for the construction of another military camp based inside Ground Zero needs thorough review and more circumspect in an ambit of participative consultation with the stakeholders in Marawi.

There are positive and negative effect of this project to us. This is crucial to diagnose because its effect on the minds of the young people is tremendous. The government should learn from history that militarization to instill descipline and social order is not sustainable but will instead breed more radicals.

The government must see the problem comprehensively. Until structural violence is still prevalent in our communities — corruption, vote buying, human rights abuses, discrimination, political dynasties, economic inequaliteis, poverty etc.. — radicalism and rebellion will not be far behind.

The construction of military camp will encroach on the cultural and religious rights of the people in Marawi and violate the normalization component of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) between the Government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Thus, we strongly oppose the construction of another military camp inside the City. What we need is sustained peace, effective governance and empowered constituencies, not another military base.

We are hopeful that the government will listen to our clamor as a citizen in this country and review the concept of Transitional Justice.

The post-Marawi program should not be mainly on physical rehabilitation but beyond that, social justice.

We also hope that the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) will get involved, will participate in the Marawi healing, reconstruction and rebuilding, and that the program of the government must always anchor on the humanistic approach that is IDP-centered, and respect the cultural and religious belief of the people. We hope also that Martial law will be totally lifted for us to move forward.

Therefore, I am hopeful for a few and hopeless for many.

I will be elated if the government will seriously look and support the compensation bill filed in the congress to assist the affected displaced families in their total recovery.

The suffering of our fellow IDPs in the temporary shelters is too much.

There is no reason to celebrate the second anniversary of Marawi’s “ liberation” because there is no real liberation of Marawi.

Congratulations to the Government. You Win, We Suffer!

[MindaNews is the opinion section of MindaViews. OUR Marawi is open to anyone who wishes to share his/her thoughts on what is happening in Marawi. Abdul Hamidullah Atar, Sultan of Marawi, is Executive Officer of the Reconciliatory Initiatives for Development Opportunities Incorporated (RIDO)]


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