MARAWI CITY (MindaNews / 25 March) — Ten months after they were forced to flee their homes and shops, residents of 24 barangays in the 250-hectare ‘Ground Zero’ — the main battle area in the five-month siege that the military now refers to as “Most Affected Area” (MAA) — will finally be allowed to visit for three days per sector, from April 1 to May 10
Presented to the Multisectoral Forum at the Provincial Capitol last Wednesday, the “Kambisita sa MAA” (Visit the MAA) program of Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM) and the city government of Marawi, aims to give displaced residents of the 24 barangays inside the MAA “a chance to visit and recover personal belongings left.”
At least 11,000 families resided in ‘Ground Zero’ before the ISIS-inspired Maute Group and its allies laid siege on Marawi on May 23, 2017, after a foiled attempt by the military and police to arrest Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon in Marawi.
‘Ground Zero’ has been classified into nine sectors, with each sector allocated three days for visits.
Each family or shopowner in the erstwhile bustling commercial and residential center, will be allowed inside their sector from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. to gather what they can still salvage from the rubble and mostly uninhabitable and emptied structures.
Asked if a family can return the next day if there are still items that need to be hauled, Assistant Secretary Felix Castro, TFBM field manager, told MindaNews on Sunday, “yes, balik the next day” (they can return the next day).
Asked if there is a limit as to the number of times a family can return to what used to be their home or shop within the three days allocated for their sector, Castro replied: “hindi napag-usapan kung pwede ilang balik per day. Ask ko. Me meeting again tomorrow” (it hasn’t been discussed how many times they can return a day. I will ask, There is a meeting again tomorrow), he said.
But Castro later sent another text message: “ang bottomline, you are allowed three days. Kahit balik balik ka ng three days” (Even if you keep returning in three days) within the 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. schedule.
Visiting residents have to guard against possible unexploded ordnance (UXOs) and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as the military has not completely cleared ‘Ground Zero’ of UXOs and IEDs.
According to the “Kambisita sa MAA” presentation, barangay chairs are to sign waivers. Asked for clarification who will sign the waivers — the barangay chairs or the visiting families / shopowners — Castro said, “initially, barangay chairs to sign, then yung papasok (visiting residents) will sign before entering area.”
Asked if the families that will enter ‘Ground Zero’ will sign waivers and what will happen if they don’t want to sign, Marawi Mayor Majul Gandamra told MindaNews in a text message: “no instruction from Task Force Bangon Marawi nor from LGU-Marawi to that effect. Tomorrow (Monday) there will be final briefing with the security forces, TFBM, BLGUs (barangay local government units) concerned and LGU Marawi.. Let’s wait for the final decision on the matter.”
Housing Secretary and TFBM chair Eduardo del Rosario in a press conference in Malacanang on January 26 announced that residents who want to visit the MAA in April will have to coordinate with their barangay officials because “we need a waiver through their barangay captains that if ever something will explode, something will happen that will endanger their lives, it will not be responsibility of the Task Force Bangon Marawi as well as the local government unit of Marawi City government.”
He said he will allow the 11,000 families to go see their buildings and houses “if they would like to recover personal belongings na puwede pa nilang magamit,” even as he described the buildings and houses in the MAA as “90 to 100% destroyed.”
Del Rosario explained that what they really want is for residents not to return to the area. “Ang gusto namin talaga, hindi na sila babalik. But because of the tremendous pressure ng 11,000 (families) who would like to see, we will allow it, provided they issue a waiver,” he said.
Asked why they have to sign waivers when the Armed Forces of the Philippines is supposed to have cleared ‘Ground Zero’ of UXOs and IEDs by first week of April, del Rosario told MindaNews on January 26: “the AFP said they can only clear 80 to 90% of the whole MAA.”
Three days per sector
The visit to Sector 1C, classified “80% cleared,” is scheduled on April 1, 2 and 3; Sector 1B, also “80% cleared” is on April 5, 7 and 8 (April 6 is a Friday); Sector 1A, classified “90% cleared, “is on April 10, 11 and 12.
The schedule of visit in Sector 1F or Old City Hall area, classified “80% cleared,” is on April 15, 16 and 17; in Sector 1E or Pilot School area, “80% cleared,” on April 19, 21 and 22 (April 20 is a Friday).
In Sector 1H, “80% cleared,” the schedule of visit is on April 24, 25 and 26; Sector 1D or Grand Mosque Area, classified as of March 21 as “on hold; needs breaker” is on April 29, 30 and May 1; Sector 1G, classified as of March 21 as “needs breaker for collapsed building” is on May 3, 5 and 6 (May 4 is a Friday); and Sector 1I, classified as of March 21 as clearing “ongoing,” is on May 8, 9 and 10.
Each visiting family is allowed up to seven members only. Children under 16 years old are not allowed to enter ‘Ground Zero.’
Visiting residents are to provide their own hauling equipment and only two vehicles will be allowed per family.
They are also required to wear protective gears, listed as “hard hat, hard-sole shoes, masks” and females “must at least wear pants (maong) with their usual dress for protection against metal sheets.”
A medical team from the city and province will be on standby in the area visited.
Visitors are also advised of the Do’s and Don’ts.
Seven instructions were listed under “Do’s”: Enter Mapandi Bridge (6 a. m onwards); Exit Papandayan (not later than 3 p.m.); Recover all personal properties; Turn over any found firearms and illegal drugs at designated booth in the area manned by military personnel (no question asked); Report discovered / suspicious location of UXO, IED and Skeletal Remains; Vacate the area when UXOs / IEDs are found; and Follow instructions from authorities.
Only three instructions were listed under “Don’ts”: Don’t get belongings which are not yours; Don’t enter houses other than yours; and Don’t touch suspicious UXO and IED
On the Safety Precautions for UXO/IED, visiting residents are to treat all uncleared areas as areas with presence of UXO and IED; that they should “not attempt to
tilt, jar, move or disturb an IED “except remotely;” that they should “minimize time near IED;” be alert for booby traps and secondary devices; and “evaluate any situation perceived to be a threat and report it quickly.”
On “Safety Reminders for Trip Wires,” visiting residents must “contact EOD (Explosives Ordnance Disposal) team “if available!” and if not available, “attempt to mark and circumvent the tripwire IED.”
Visiting residents are also advised: “do not disturb tripwires.”
They are also asked to “report immediately the suspected item to proper authorities; get all non-essential personnel out, mark the location of suspected item, if possible; and stay away from the ‘line of sight’ of the suspected item.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)