PRIVILEGE SPEECH: Imagine how it feels to be locked out of your Marawi home for three long years…

(Privilege Speech of Rep. Yasser Alonto Balindong on the third anniversary of the Marawi Siege, delivered in the House of Representatives via Zoom on 3 June 2020)

Bismillah, ar-Rahman, ar-Rahim. Assalamualaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh.

Mr. Speaker, Honorable Colleagues. I rise to speak about the Third Year Anniversary of the Marawi Siege last May 23.

Portions of Marawi burn after an aerial bombardment. MindaNews photo by H. MARCOS C. MORDENO

There is no place like home, but it is ironic that during this pandemic, many Filipinos do not want to stay home. The government has been doing a great deal to keep them home; but they just don’t want to be there.

There is a group of people, however, who, since more than three years ago, would want to go home, but they are prevented from doing so. I am referring to the residents of Marawi City who have been driven out of their houses to allow government forces sufficient space to run after the enemies of the State during the Marawi Siege. But while the siege had long been dismantled, and the City totally devastated, our people remain locked out of Marawi and now locked down in places they cannot call their home.

It is said that even a lowly peasant can proudly proclaim that his humble abode is his castle. It may be frail, its roof may shake, the rain may enter, the wind may enter. But the King may not enter, all his forces dare not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement. A man’s dwelling is, indeed, sacred.

Downtown Marawi in ruins. MindaNews photos by MANMAN DEJETO

Yes, a lowly Maranao may not have enough strength to protect his house from all intruders. Willingly or unwillingly, he may allow the forces of the State to take control of his dwelling. He may witness how his possessions are being ransacked, how his roof is being blown away, and its walls are being torn apart, or even his entire tenement, pulverized to the ground. Yet it is still his home.

Mr. Speaker, Honorable Colleagues, even before the term “flattening the curve” is used in this pandemic, our people were already familiar with the concept of “flattening,” more than three years ago. Yes, Marawi has been flattened; but we still call it home. Even though what remains of it is a mere memory of what was once a peaceful abode, it is still home to us Maranaos where we find security, while others cannot. A meal at home can satisfy much more than the erratic ration at the relocation center for three years. A sip of water in our kitchen can quench our thirst better than a glass of fluid in a temporary shelter for three long years. If we want the Maranaos to stay home, then let us bring them home.

Mr. Speaker, Honorable Colleagues, we Maranaos are appealing to your kind attention. Kahit sulyap lang, tingnan nyo naman ang aming kalagayan. We are appealing to the Government. We know that the President will consider the increasing hardships of our people. If fourteen days of quarantine in a hotel or shelter is difficult. If one month, two months, or even three months of lockdown without income in your house is unbearable. Then perhaps you can imagine how it feels to be locked out for three long years, and now locked down in a place you cannot call your home.

Tearing down buildings in Marawi City. MindaNews photo by FROILAN GALLARDO

If the Maranaos were to die, they would rather die at home. For where will they find life?

Our displaced people carry a new appendage – Bakwits – the Maranao Bakwits. When they left Marawi more than three years ago, most of them carried nothing, except the will to live. Afraid for their life, some of them travelled as far as they could to survive the sounds of bombs and rifles. Others even reached Metro Manila and started to sell goods for their survival until the lock down was imposed on March 15. From then on, they could no longer sell their goods. So how will they survive?

Those who could not travel far, especially those with women, children, and the elderly, opted to stay at the temporary shelters. Life has been difficult in a four-meter-by-six-meter shelter whose walls are made of fiber cement boards. Maranao Bakwits started living there more than three years ago. The heat is like hell on earth. But with the COVID lock down in place, nobody can describe it as life anymore. In fact, many have been hospitalized for weeks after suffering depression.

Marawi children in an evacuation center in Iligan City. MindaNews photo by AUBREY ROCIN LLAMAS

For those who were able to keep their sanity intact, heatstroke may be an understatement. Hunger is a daily ritual and a shortage of water is its constant companion. After the siege, some Bakwits could travel three kilometers to fetch water from the nearest artesian well. But after the lockdown, they have to use blue water drums to catch rain from the elusive summer downpour. People complain about the lock down in their homes? But they just need to open their faucet and instantly water will come out. But that is not the same for the Maranao Bakwit.

Mr. Speaker, Honorable Colleagues, the quarantine has aggravated the life of the Maranao Bakwits. It has grounded most, if not all, aid and development groups even if they are exempted from the lockdown measures. Almost all partner international agencies have pulled out. Indeed, hunger is a force much stronger that the virus.

The Maranaos are crying but they can do nothing. We know that the Maranaos occupy a special place in the heart of the President. We also know that he has more than enough troubles to solve. We just want him to know that like any other Filipino, the Maranaos also long to be home.

Temporary shelters in Barangay Sagonsongan, Marawi City. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

While after more than three long years, Marawi has not been rebuilt, the Maranaos are ready, able, and willing to help the Government and pursue the “Build, Build, Build” Program of President Duterte. Side by side with the Government, the Maranaos are ready to rebuild their City. The Maranaos want to be part of the program for after all, we must HEAL AS ONE.

Thank you for this opportunity to speak in behalf of our people. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Thank you, Honorable Colleagues.

Assalamualaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh.

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