ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews/24 July) — Desperate for relief assistance after two months in evacuation centers here, throngs of evacuees from besieged Marawi City now want to go back to their homes so they may start rebuilding their lives.
“Mr. President, please let us end the war now,” Maranao youth leader Omeihaya Sharief said in a State of the Bakwit Address (SOBA) she delivered Monday at the madrasa in Ceanuri Subdivision here in behalf of the thousands of families displaced by the two-month siege on Marawi by the Islamic State-inspired Maute Group.
A movement dubbed Dansalan Tano sa Kalilintad (Let’s return to a peaceful Marawi) has emerged among the Marawi evacuees here, with the aim of pushing government to end the war soonest so that the displaced Maranaos can go back to their homes.
This is led by Muslim religious and traditional leaders.
Based on official statistics, the ongoing war has displaced over 460,000 people with only about 30,000 staying in evacuation centers. The rest are staying with relatives.
About 100,000 of these evacuees are staying in Iligan.
“As the war continues, so are the hardships of the evacuees,” Sharief pointed out.
“Despite the official pronouncements of authorities, many home-based evacuees continue to be wanting of food supply that is why their children are prone to diseases and ailments,” she said.
“Those in evacuation centers are making do with crowding, the heat during daytime and cold during nighttime from the cemented floor where they sleep. They are also tired of eating canned sardines and cup noodles,” she added.
“Because of the difficult situation they have to bear, the evacuees are experiencing a high level of stress. They need psycho-social care so they can think beyond the current situation and be able to plan on how to move on with their lives,” Sharief further said.
Pascal Porchet, head of delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in the Philippines, acknowledged the continuing difficulties faced by evacuees whether they are with relatives or in evacuation centers.
Porchet particularly pointed to the “critical situation” faced by evacuee families and their hosts.
“They are also running out of means. They have been very generous, they have shown a lot of solidarity, but as the situation continues, they are getting desperate,” Porchet said.
“Those who are living in those situations, they are desperate to be able to go home,” he added.
Drieza Lininding, secretary general of the Bangsamoro National Movement for Peace and Development, said the Maranaos would like to settle back to areas of the city which government forces have cleared of militants’ presence.
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said that the militants now only control 49 hectares of territory straddling three barangays.
Three weeks ago, Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera, then Joint Task Force Marawi spokesperson, said the militants controlled 100 hectares.
Sharief said that for the past two months, “our hearts broke seeing on television the daily destruction wrought on our beloved Marawi due to the continued fighting.”
“We are anxious at every news of bombing runs as these could be hitting our houses or stores that our parents worked hard to put up.
“Until now, we continue to grapple with the questions: Why is government doing this to the Maranaos? If the siege happened in another place, say Cebu, will it do what it had done to Marawi?” she said.
She said even the total destruction of Marawi will not spell the end of the problem of violent extremism and radicalism purveyed by IS.
“One, their top leaders have already escaped. Two, we continue to face the social problems that breed recruits into their fold,” she explained.
Sharief said the majority of Maranaos have never supported the presence in and takeover by the militants of Marawi, hence, they are against the President negotiating with them.
“What we asked of you, Mr. President, is to allow our traditional and religious leaders to drive them out of Marawi so that it is spared from ruin. But you never listened to us,” she pointed out.
“That is why in the last six weeks, the militarist approach was dominant in the search for solutions to the crisis.”
Sharief lamented, however, that in the case of the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu, there were several instances when government, including that of Duterte, talked to the bandits to have several hostages released.
She noted that the militants have long threatened to wreak havoc on Marawi should the Maranaos continue to refuse to embrace its brand of Islam.
“As it turned out, government helped the IS militants achieve their goal,” she said. (Ryan Rosauro/for MindaNews)