CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 24 May) — It has been four years since the siege of Marawi City, and the landscape of the city has undergone a lot of changes since then. In the days that followed, pictures of a city destroyed by gunfire and air strikes were plastered across the news and social media, while momentum for aid and support built up as humanitarian organizations rushed in to help those who were displaced by the conflict.
Marawi’s total land area nearly covers 9,000 hectares, more than two-thirds of which had been classified as a military reservation since the Americans built their first camp in the area during the 1900s.
Following the siege in 2017, residents of Marawi City have strongly appealed to reclassify these lands and to be redistributed to the rightful owners. The President duly responded to the public clamor in order to correct the historical injustices committed against the Meranao people in one of his public pronouncements by assuring the public that his administration will redistribute these tracts of land to the rightful owners. The people still await a concrete plan and action on this regard.
Meanwhile, the consolidated version of the Marawi Compensation Bill filed in the House of Representatives has undergone major committee revisions specifically on sections identifying the amount of compensation which already constituted to replacing the consolidated draft with a Substitute bill is yet to be passed into law.
While major repairs can be observed in the ongoing reconstruction of MAA (Most Affected Area) in terms of infrastructure, the Meranao people continue to reel from
the loss of livelihoods caused by the disruption of their once peaceful lives.
Progress on the infrastructure component under the Masterplan must be reinforced with sustainable programs to assist the business sector in order to invigorate the once thriving local economy of the City and to mitigate the expected long-term socio-economic impacts of the armed-conflict.
In order to achieve this, we need to institutionalize support mechanisms to ascertain that programs and assistance under the Marawi Rehabilitation Masterplan continue and should be made not only as administrative priorities of each sitting-member agency in the Taskforce Bangon Marawi but as a National Policy of this administration and the succeeding administrations to come. It is high time that Congress must introduce a specific, dedicated budget allocation intended purposely for Marawi Rehabilition in the future approval of the General Appropriations Act.
Land is and will always be integral to a people’s identity and way of life, and many Meranao communities continue to struggle with starting anew after having to move away from their familial and cultural roots.
It is therefore essential in the whole effort of rebuilding Marawi that constructing additional permanent shelter facilities is sought in order to accommodate IDPs (Internally Displaced People) and to finally transition them from being Displaced Persons residing in transitory shelter units to permanent owners of house and lots they would call home.
This is what we originally hoped to achieve, to provide new and productive communities for the people who have forever lost the familiar comfort of their previous neighborhoods. This is also a way of providing them the Dignity of Living they truly deserve under the pretext of Social Healing.
However, we should not also forget that there are a large number of IDPs residing in areas outside of the transitory shelters and outside of the City. They are called Home-Based IDPs, I am included in the list of Home-Based IDPs. As a matter of inclusivity, they too need assistance and support.
The Bangsamoro regional government is committed to continue responding to the most urgent needs and concerns of the people, while also looking for ways to better coordinate the implementation of programs and policies of the national government in the city. Apart from the reconstruction of the roads and the buildings, it is rebuilding the sense of security and confidence of the Meranao people that needs urgent and immediate attention as well. This is why we implore the public to continue denouncing violent extremism and terrorism and to support policies that would maintain and ensure the safety and security of our areas including investing in our youth for peace development initiatives and programs.
Official messaging is important in maintaining security in the area from threats of violent extremists. The idea is to dispossess terrorist groups from ever using the public sentiments and capitalizing on sensitive matters that could potentially be utilized by the terrorist organizations as part of their propaganda machineries for recruitment.
We need to counter this if we are to win the sympathy of the public. We need the people on our side. We need to improve our communication line with the community by honoring and promoting their tradition and to value their cultural assets including of which is the preservation of the Old Marawi City Hall by converting it into a Cultural Heritage Site.
I thank the Task Force Bangon Marawi and the LGUs of Marawi and Lanao Del Sur for the major progress we saw inside the Most Affected Area especially the repairs and rebuilding of the damaged Masjids. Although much is to be done and to set deadlines for the opening of MAA is to create public expectation. Therefore, we will hold TFBM true to its promise that by October of this year, displaced families can finally return to the Most Affected Area in order to restart anew. We are confident that TFBM can and will deliver on this assurance.
The rehabilitation process would not have progressed in its current state today without the support and assistance of the private sector – both local NGOs and International humanitarian donor agencies have invested greatly throughout the rebuilding process because we all share the belief that rehabilitation of Marawi is not simply limited to infrastructure repairs but ultimately to rebuild the true asset of the city and that is her people.
It is only through ensuring quality and accessible social services, the right to property and life that a genuine rehabilitation and restoration of Marawi City would truly reflect our continuing commitment to social healing.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Zia Alonto Adiong is a Member of Parliament in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. He is Deputy Speaker of the Bangsamoro Parliament. He was spokesperson of the Lanao del Sur Provincial Crisis Management Committee during the five-month Marawi Siege in 2017. He issued this statement on 23 May 2021, the fourth anniversary of Day 1 of the siege)