Marawi mothers to Duterte: “Please, restore us to our homes, our own lands!”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 15 April) — A group of mothers displaced by the war in Marawi is asking President Rodrigo Duterte to “restore us to our homes, our own lands” soonest as they are “wearied and tormented by the injustice of this all.”

“Why in the name of God, can we not be given the right to go back to our lands soonest as in, now? Why can we not go back and rebuild at once, eke out dignified existence somehow with our hands and by our will?” the United Mothers of Marawi, Inc. (UMMI) said in an April 14 open letter to President Duterte.

Duterte has Meranaw roots His grandmother on his mother’s side was a Meranaw.

Fatimah Lumabao, a widow, sheds tears as she narrates at the evacuation center in Buru-un, Iligan City on July 12, 2017 that four of her eight children remain missing since clashes between government forces and the Maute Group in Marawi City started on May 23. MindaNews photo by H. MARCOS C. MORDENO

The mothers said the President’s mother, Soledad, “must be turning in her grave now for the senseless atrocity that you, her son, has allowed her blood and kith to suffer.”

Some 360,000 residents of Marawi and neighboring areas were displaced by the five month war between government forces and the Maute Group and its allies.

While some displaced residents have returned, residents in the 24 barangays of Marawi’s Ground Zero, the former main battle area now referred to as “most affected area” (MAA), cannot return to their villages until “most likely first quarter of 2020,” according to Housing Secretary and Task Force Bangon Marawi chair Eduardo del Rosario.

The UMMI said they are “made to suffer for a crime that is not of our making” and are “forced to pay for the inefficiency of those who are charged with the welfare of the people and the security of the land.”

“Mr. President, while developers can start their tasks, we are barred from our homes and made to wait for two, three or more years before we are allowed to go back? Why should we be forced to undergo such hassle and bureaucratic red tape as we heard would be the process? Why? ”

Del Rosario told Malacanang reporters on April 6 that the timeline for the debris clearing and site development in Ground Zero is “about 18 months” from groundbreaking. Groundbreaking is targeted on June 7.

“So if that is undertaken on time, then after 18 months, or one year and six months, the different owners — we will do it by phasing — can apply for construction of building permit, housing permit from the city government so that once and for all everything will be organized because we don’t have a data bank, data base of all these buildings and houses,” he said.

“We will only allow (residents to rebuild) once the developer is through with their site development in providing the utilities, then the individual private owners of lots can apply for a building permit from the city government,” del Rosario said.

Addressing the Meranaws before departing for the Boao Forum for Asia in Hainan, China on April 9, Duterte said, “I will do what is best for you so do not hurry me up.”

“Kayong mga Moro, wag kayong magmadali” (You, Moro, do not rush)…. “you cannot erect a post there (referring to Marwi’s Ground Zero). There are rubbles and rocks,” Duterte said at the Davao International Airport.

“Give us time to clean the downtown area tapos papasok kami (and then we will enter). We will clean it up of leftovers o yung hindi pa na, unexploded ordnance (UXOs) just to make it safe for you,” he said.

The area has been rendered relatively safe as the military had targeted the first week of April to wind up operations to clear the area of UXOs and IEDS (improvised explosive devices). It had cleared around 80%, allowing TFBM and the City Government of Marawi to initiate Kambisita sa MAA (Visit the MAA) where for three days per sector on April 1 to May 10, residents from the 24 barangays could return to their villages to salvage whatever they can from the rubble of what used to be their home.

Duterte said residents should not believe the left, who, he claimed, has been telling residents that “we will not allow this, we will not allow that.”

“I do not receive orders from anybody. Wala ako dyan. Kung anong sabihin ko as President na yan ang mabuti, wag ninyo akong pakialaman. (I’m not into that. When I as President say this is good, do not meddle with me). I will do … basta sigurado ako (for as long as I am sure), I will do what is best for you so do not hurry me up,” Duterte said.

A resident checks the extent of damage of what used to be her home in Marawi City on April 5, 2018. Through “Kambisita sa MAA” (Visit the Most Affected Area), residents of Ground Zero are given three days per sector between April 1 to May 10 to retrieve whatever they can still salvage from the ruins of their house. MindaNews photo by FROILAN GALLARDO

Duterte said Marawi cannot be rebuilt with just a few million pesos.

Del Rosario said it would take from 17 to 20 billion pesos to rehabilitate Ground Zero or the MAA and another 55 billion pesos for areas outside the MAA.

“Just stay put. Kung wala naman kayong pera, at wala naman kayong plano (If you don’t have money and you don’t have a plan), leave it to government. But for you to impose upon me conditions, I am sorry. You just have to follow government. I, we did not create the chaos there. Pinapasok kasi ninyo yung mga gago eh (You allowed those fools to enter),” Duterte said, referring to the Maute Group that laid siege on Marawi on May 23 last year, along with its allies.

“I am not mad at you, but please next time…” Duterte said without finishing his sentence.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)