The nation stood still afternoon of May 23, 2017 when social media was flooded with photographs and video clips of armed men clad in black, carrying black ISIS flags moving around vital areas in Marawi City. By early evening, some parts of Marawi were on fire and before the nation could fully understand what was happening in the country’s lone Islamic City, President Rodrigo Duterte, then in Moscow on a state visit, placed the entire Mindanao under martial law, shortly before midnight in the Philippines.
Government soldiers battled it out with ISIS-inspired Maute Group and its allies in what would be a five-month urban warfare never before seen in the country.
Residents left their homes and most of their belongings behind in their rush to leave the city. It would be over in three days, they thought. No one could imagine the fighting would take months and their villages would be reduced to rubble — homes, shops, mosques, schools destroyed by aerial strikes, mortars and grenades and high-powered guns.
The war forced some 350,000 residents of Marawi and neighboring towns into a diaspora, as they sought refuge in evacuation centers or in relatives’ houses in neighboring towns and cities, a number migrating to other parts of Mindanao, the Visayas and Luzon.
Although many relied on relief goods for their survival, the entrepreneurs among them continued to ply their trade even inside evacuation camps, hoping to stand on their own feet no matter what.
One year later, some transitional shelters have been constructed but rehabilitation work has yet to formally start in Ground Zero, the 250-hectare former main battle area between the warring forces (now referred to as MAA or Most Affected Area), comprising 24 of Marawi’s 96 barangays, and in the areas outside the MAA.
Meranaws are demanding that they be consulted in government’s plans to build a “new Marawi,” maintaining that rehabilitation is not just about infrastructure but also in ensuring “the totality of our being, our identity.”
“The most important rehabilitation is that of our identity as Meranaws,” says Dalomabi Lao Bula, a retired Literature professor at the Mindanao State University main campus.
Here’s a quick review of the year that was Marawi. (MindaNews)