End of Marawi siege: “just a beginning of a more difficult task”

MARAWI CITY (MindaNews / 24 October) – Jaslia Mambuay of Barangay Mapandi welcomed the news that the154-day war from May 23 to October 23 is over, but she knows they won’t be able to go home as yet. Her village is not among nine barangays whose residents will be allowed to return home “on Oct. 25 or 26.”

Jaslia, her husband and two of her six children have been staying in the evacuation center in Buru-un, Iligan City for five months, her four other children, the eldest of whom is in Grade 10 are with their paternal grandparents in Bubong, Lanao del Sur.

She told MindaNews that a village official told her their house still stands but “wag na daw kami umasa na may laman pa” (we should not expect that our belongings are still there).

Buildings lay in ruins after the 5-month battle to retake Marawi City from ISIS-inspired terrorists. This is the view from the other side of the lake on 24 October 2017. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

Before the war, Jaslia had a small rice retail business while her husband was a tricycle driver in the country’s lone Islamic City. Their only source of income now is a small sari-sari store in their tent at the evacuation center in Buru-un, Iligan City.

In June, Jaslia told MindaNews that if she had a choice, she would not return to Marawi immediately after the fighting as she expects there would be rido (clan feuds), particularly between those who lost their homes or livelihood and those who were identified to be relatives of, sympathizers or supporters, of the terrorists.

Mustapha Saripada, a member of the Ulama Council and the Ulama League of the Philippines, and President of the Marantao Integrated School for the Science of the Peace hopes they could return home immediately. “Kung pwede lang bukas” (If only we can return tomorrow,” he told MindaNews before leading the prayers at a lakeside mosque, their first after five months.

Around 20 members of the Barangay Peacekeeping Action Team were in the lakeside village cleaning up the streets in preparation for the return of the residents. Exactly when they can return, no one could answer.

End, beginning

For Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s declaration on Monday, October 23 that the 154-day Marawi siege is over is “in reality… just a beginning of a more difficult task of rebuilding broken relationships, social healing and physical reconstruction.”

Assemblyman Zia Alonto Adiong, spokesperson of the Provincial Crisis Management Committee, urged everyone to “channel our resolve from fighting the terrorists to working for the healing of our shattered community”

He said social healing must start by immediately activating the plans of each sub-committee under the Task Force Bangon Marawi.

“Let us now bring our people home,” said Adiong.

4 health-related priorities

But bringing the Marawi residents home is not that easy. Not all of Marawi’s 40,000 families — the number of displaced residents, according to Mayor Majul Gandamra — still have homes to return to. Those whose houses are still standing, like Jaslia, have to expect the worst: that their belongings have been looted.

The commercial district, the trading center in Lanao del Sur and a principal source of livelihood for thousands of residents and thousands more from the neighboring towns, has been reduced to rubble.

Hundreds of residents will search for the remains of their beloved who were either hostaged or were trapped

Dr. Kadil Sinolinding, ARMM Health Secretary cited four health-related priorities in post-conflict Marawi.

He said there is a need to “prioritize mental health services by experts” when the residents return to their respective houses, “especially those that are damaged by the war.”

Sinolinding expects a variety of reactions “ranging from simple depression to different types of psychiatric illnesses.”

“In reality we lack experts in ARMM,” he admitted.

Water and sanitation facilities must be assured, Sinolinding stressed, citing the possible disruption of potable water supply and the contamination of common water source due to the war. Toilet facilities prevent spread of diarrhea causing infections, he added.

Continuation of nutritional assessment and intervention must also be assured, he added, “to prevent children from suffering malnutrition.”

Sinolinding stressed the need for augmentation of manpower in all hospitals in Lanao del Sur as they are “overwhelmed by in patients.”

Happy and sad

Marawi Bishop Edwin dela Pena told MindaNews he is “happy that the siege is over and people can go back to their respective places” but “sad also because there is practically no house to go home to for the Marawi residents including us at St. Mary’s Cathedral.”

“It’s going to be traumatic for some to see their former homes uninhabitable,” he said.

The Bishop hopes the rehabilitation of the city “can proceed at dizzying pace.”

Only four pre-fabricated houses have been installed in the transitional shelter site in Barangay Sagonsongan, Marawi City as of Tuesday, October 24. An initial 1,175 houses are supposed to be installed for residents who lost thier homes in Marai’s Ground Zero although Mayor Majul Gandamra said they recommended 6,300 shelters. MIndaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

In Barangay Sagonsongan, site of the initial 1,175 transitional shelters for those who have no more homes to return to in Marawi’s Ground Zero, only four pre-fabricated houses have been installed, six concrete floorings are undergoing curing and two other floorings are partly finished as of Tuesday afternoon.

Housing Secretary Eduardo del Rosario told Radio DZMM on October 19 that he expects about 500 to 600 houses installed by December.

Cause for relief, not celebration

For lawyer Zainudin Malang, former head of a civilian protection NGO in Mindanao who served as protection coordinator in South Sudan and co-coordinator of the protection cluster in Iraq at the height of the offensive against the ISIS there told MindaNews that the end of the siege is “a cause for relief, not celebration, given the price that the local residents had to pay for it — the total destruction of the city.”

“First week pa lang, I was already questioning the conduct of hostilities and the military’s heavy reliance on air assets. I was still in Iraq and co-coordinating the protection response to the government and coalition’s offensive to retake Mosul from ISIS. I knew then that if the military continued its heavy reliance on air strikes than on infantry, we would see the same extent of destruction in Marawi as I was seeing in western Mosul.”

“In contrast, the retaking of Eastern Mosul did not see the same level of destruction because the government refrained from relying too much on air strikes and heavy artillery. I was hoping that those who had a say in addressing the Marawi Siege saw that distinction. Ang kaso, bomba lang ng bomba, with nary a reaction even from Moro leaders. Ayan, durog ang kawawang siyudad,” Malang said.

Dureza said the end of the siege “should also be a signal of everyone’s awakening to the reality that ordinary citizens must be involved in nurturing an enabling environment conducive to safe and peaceful lives in their respective communities,” he said. “

Noor Saada, a former Assistant Secretary at the ARMM’s Department of Education and now Director of Binhi of Peace and Change, Inc. said there are three types of war in Marawi: the physical war which has been won and completed; the mental war or the war of narratives; and the war among those displaced by the war.

In the physical war, Saada said the mood is now towards reconstruction, rehabilitation or rebuilding; the mental war is still ongoing and there is a need “to win over those who did not participate in (the physical war) but are sympathetic to the Maute cause; and in the third war, “winning the hearts of the people will be key pillar in determining the future peace, order and security of the place.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)