DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 31 March) — Barred entry to Ground Zero by a phalanx of male and female police personnel as well as soldiers stationed at Rapitan Bridge (formerly Pumping Bridge), displaced Marawi residents laid down their prayer rugs on the road Friday noon for their congregational prayers and rites for relatives who perished in Ground Zero during the five-month siege.
Men and women openly wept and wailed, the prayers at times drowned out by the sound of sorrow.
Rally organizers had earlier planned a march to Ground Zero from Kilometer Zero near People’s Park, passing through City Hall compound to Pumping Bridge to Banggolo and finally to the Grand Mosque or Islamic Center for the prayers.
But no permit was granted by the military which has jurisdiction over Ground Zero.
“We prayed two kinds of prayer. First is the Friday prayer and second is the prayer for (relatives) we lost. The prayer was full of emotions and heart. Everyone was crying and you can feel soul and determination from all the participants,” Khayrriyah Faykha Alonto Ala, 17-year old youth representative of the Ranao Multi Sectoral Movement (RMSM) told MindaNews in a text message.
Ala, a Grade 12 student at the Mindanao State University, recalled that when they reached the area of City Hall, the police and military were there along with a fire truck. “Fully armed sila but because of our stand that we are non-violent and pro-peace and the walk was for a peaceful walk, there were no casualties and everything turned out successful despite all the struggles,” she added.
Ala estimated “roughly 3,500 plus” who joined the rally but government security forces placed the number at 500 to 800.
Retired MSU Literature Professor Dalomabi Lao Bula said the rally was “peaceful” as they had promised “but to our frustration the police and army did not allow us to enter Ground Zero.”
The 250-hectare Ground Zero, composed of 24 barangays, is the former main battle area between government forces and the Maute Group and its allies during the May 23 to October 23, 2017 siege. It is now referred to by the military as MAA or Most Affected Area.
A resident of Marinaut at Ground Zero, Bula said that for the internally displaced persons (IDPs) like her, the protest action was a success.
“The world knows that we were not consulted by the government in its plan of program for Marawi rehabilitation and reconstruction,” she said, adding the government’s plan is “not suited to our faith and culture.”
Not dumb people
Bula pointed out that Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM) will now realize that “the Meranaws are not dumb people.”
“We know our rights and we fight for our rights,” she said, but acknowledged they had been silent because they were waiting for their leaders to take action.
She said they had to make a move because their leaders, whom she described as “tuta” (lackeys) of the national government, did nothing about their concerns. “This is just the beginning,” the retired professor said.
Housing Secretary Eduardo del Rosario, concurrent TFBM chair told MindaNews in a text message Friday that claims that no consultations were done “have no reasonable basis since the local government units have been part of the consultation process.”
Adel Ditucalan, President of the Ranao Watch for Empowerment Network told MindaNews that their letter of appeal to President Duterte, issued last Thursday, and the Friday rally “were out and out success. If we were at war, that is a battle that we are the victors of.”
In its appeal to Duterte, the RMSM opposed the establishment of an ecozone and another military camp in Ground Zero, noted how the future “seems threatening” because “in the guise of rebuilding our home, in the guise of laying down the foundations of a better, progressive and modern city, the will and vision of those who live far from us who built this city are being imposed upon us.”
“This is an invasion of a different kind. This one threatens to rob our soul,” it said, explaining that plans had been made “without our participation,” plans that “neither bear the stamp of our will nor reflect our culture” and whose mechanics and implementation “are not clear to us.”
“But one thing is clear: the people of Marawi are largely left out,” the RMSM said.
Ditucalan said that through their collective actions, they “called the attention of the world to the gross injustice of the non- participation of the people in the planning of the Marawi Rehabilitation” and del Rosario “himself admitted that they were dealing with LGUs only.”
She said they were able to expose “the gross insincerity of the planners” including “their almost mayhem scheming to displace our War zone IDPs permanently so as to establish their ecozone and a military complex” in Ground Zero.
Ditucalan added preventing them from entering Ground Zero was “proof of the military suppression of our rights, the brutal denial of our basic rights to go back to our homes, to erect makeshift shelters thereon if only to escape the cruel discrimination of other places!”
“Where in the world’s constitutions, daughter Faykha cried as our march was met with a thick barricade of the military and police, can we see this basic right to return to our homes denied?,” Ditucalan added.
She said their appeal to the President, shared via social media “went viral and drew massive sympathy and support all across the world. So much more so when the pictures and videos went out.”
Ditucalan expressed hope that Duterte be given “a true briefing” and that “he thinks twice of the evil schemes of his generals. It is now a battle of truth versus false news and propaganda.”
“They have the massive state apparatus… But we have truth and Allah on our side…” Ditucalan added.
Return to Marawi permanently
Abdul Hamidullah Atar, Sultan of Marawi and core group spokesperson of RMSM, said “the world and this government know that people in Ground Zero are not satisfied with the output of the rehabilitation plan for Marawi.”
He said national and local leaders now know that the Kambisita sa MAA (Visit MAA) that the city government and TFBM are offering residents of Ground Zero is not the solution to their grievances and will not appease their emotions.
Kambisita aims to give Ground Zero residents “a chance to visit and recover personal belongings left” on April 1 to May 10, at three days per sector. The area has nine sectors.
“What we want is to return to Marawi permanently and include the victims in the rehabilitation planning,” Atar said.
The Sultan claimed their goal was achieved because President Duterte “through his allies want to discuss and review the plan in Marawi soonest possible.”
“We will not stop until will can return permanently to Marawi,” he said.
Del Rosario said they “intend to cascade our initial development plan to all sectors this April before its finalization.”
He said he emphasized during the multi-sectoral consultation that it will be a “top-bottom-up process but this group (referring to RMSM) refuses to listen, understand and accept the process.”
Del Rosario claimed majority of the Meranaws “support our development plan” including the new Army battalion camp.
“We have been explaining that these steps are undertaken to secure them during the rehab phase and prevent the resurgence of Maute-ISIS led group. Still, we could not prevent the alleged cause-oriented groups to air their grievances for we can not satisfy all however good-intentioned all our actions are,” he said.
He recalled that during the presentation of the development plan at the multisectoral forum at the provincial capitol in Marawi on March 21, “the Governor even whispered to me that she wished that she would still be alive when the Development Plans are completed.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)