Marawi residents stage rally, plan to march to Ground Zero but…

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 29 March) — Displaced Marawi residents will gather Friday morning at the People’s Park there to air their “grievances and sentiments” and march to Ground Zero for the Friday congregational prayers and to perform Islamic rites for relatives who perished in the five-month siege.

Organized by the Ranaw Multi Stakeholders Movement, “Mbalingan Tano sa Ground Zero (Let’s go back to Ground Zero) Peaceful Protest Rally,” enjoins Marawi residents displaced by the war — those from Ground Zero or what is now referred to as the MAA (Most Affected Area), those who have returned to their places of origin outside the MAA and those still staying in evacuation centers or relatives’ houses, to bring their prayer rugs and identification cards with them.

“Consistent with our constitutional rights to religious freedom, to peaceably assemble and to freedom of expression which not even the declaration of martial law could curtail, we ask the City Government of Marawi to issue the necessary permit for the March 30 peaceful assembly that will commence at People’s Park going to City Hall Compound to Pumping Bridge to Banggolo Street and finally at Masjid Islamic Cente” within Ground Zero from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m, the RMSM said in its May 26 letter to Mayor Majul Gandamra.

The letter was signed by Sutan Hamidullah Atar, Sultan of Marawi and Core Group spokesperson; Maulana Mamutuk and Prof. Abdanie Alonto, representing residents of ‘Ground Zero;’ Datu Musa Sultan, President of Saksi Radio Forum; Khayriyyah Faykah Alonto Ala, Youth sector representative; and Datu Edris Limog, Presidenti of Polonian Emirates.

“As practiced, we guarantee that this assembly will be peaceful and would not incite slightest threat to public order or safety,” the March 26 letter stated.

Gandamra, however, could not issue a permit inside Ground Zero as the military continues to have jurisdiction over the 250-hectare former main battle area (now referred to as MAA or Most Affected Area).

Since President Rodrigo Duterte declared Marawi “liberated from the terrorist influence” on October 17, entry to Ground Zero has been limited as the military conducted clearing operations to rid the area of unexploded ordnance (UXOs) and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Clearing operations were done in nine sectors, with most of the sectors declared 80% cleared as of March 28.

No permit was granted by the military to the March 30 rally organizers but from April 1 to May 10 at three days per sector, the military will allow residents of Ground Zero to enter from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. for the “Kambisita sa MAA” (Visit MAA).

The visit aims to give displaced residents of the 24 barangays inside the MAA “a chance to visit and recover personal belongings left.”  It is organized by the City Government of Marawi and Task Force Bangon Marawi, and was first announced on March 21, Day 2 of the two-day Multisectoral Forum in Marawi.

Rally organizers say they want to air their grievances and sentiments on several issues hounding post-war Marawi, among them the situation of the internally displaced persons, the transitional and permanent shelters, alleged lack of consultation on the rehabilitation plans, the issue on building another military camp, reparation, etc…

“Invasion of a different kind”

The RMSM in its appeal to President Duterte said “the future seems threatening.”

“Forces are moving that threaten to do far greater damage to our people than what the war has done. The bullet-riddled, crumbling remains of the Grand Masjid in our beloved Marawi, silent as it is now and absent of prayers, cries out. For 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,” they appealed.

Atar told MindaNews late Wednesday night that they have been coordinating with the city government, the military and police “but they continue denying our request” to proceed to Ground Zero.

The Sultan added that a “venue near Ground Zero” was proposed to them “but continue pa rin negotiation natin.”

Adel Ditucalan, President of the Ranao Watch for Empowerment Network told MindaNews Thursday: “we will try our best to convince whoever will bar us to let us proceed as we guarantee an orderly rally. Who knows they will say yes. Who knows they will find it in their hearts to let us pray for all who died inside Ground Zero. Who knows they will relent and grant our right to call adzan and break the silence and emptiness in our unprayed mosques?” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)