Returning to Marawi’s Ground Zero as “visitors,” displaced residents ask when they can return to rebuild their homes

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 04 April) — Nearly a thousand families who resided in Marawi until they were forced out of the city by the five-month siege that started on May 23 last year, have finally returned home — or what used to be their homes or shops in Ground Zero — but only for a visit on April 1, 2 and 3.

Ground Zero, the former Main Battle Area between government forces and the Maute Group and its allies, is now referred to as MAA or Most Affected Area — and for three days per sector from April 1 to May 10, is open from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. for displaced residents who want to retrieve whatever items they may be able to salvage from the rubble.

The 250-hectare Ground Zero has been opened for visitation through the Kambisita sa MAA (Visit the MAA) initiated by Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM) and the city government of Marawi.

Displaced residents from 24 barangays in Ground Zero, the Main Battle Area during the five-month siege last year (now referred to as MAA or Most Affected Area) can visit their villages “and retrieve their personal belongings” from April 1 to May 10 at three days per sector through Kambisita sa MAA (Visit MAA). Kambisita is a project of the City Government of Marawi and Task Force Bangon Marawi. Ground Zero has been divided into nine sectors (map from Kambisita flyer). Ground Zero residents, however, want more than just a visit of three days. In a rally Friday, they said they want to return home and rebuild their homes and shops.

But residents who embarked on the emotionally draining journey after nearly 11 months of agony, want to know when they can return to rebuild their homes,  Norhata Tomawis, chair of Barangay Tolali, told MindaNews in a telephone interview.

Tomawis could not answer her constituents. She, too, is asking the same question.

Tomawis was in Cagayan de Oro City to buy groceries in preparation for Ramadan when the Maute Group and its allies laid siege on Marawi on May 23, 2017, following a foiled attempt by authorities to arrest Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon in an apartment in Marawi.

It was her first time to return home, nearly 11 months later.

Her two-story house is gone, razed by fire.

As barangay chair, Tomawis had to keep up a brave front. It was heartbreaking to see her constituents break down upon seeing whatever was left of the homes they left behind in late May, she said.

“Nakita nila yung pinaghirapan nila ng ilang taon nasira dahil sa gyera” (They saw what they worked hard for for years was destroyed by the war), she said.

She cited a constituent who carried a heavy, rain-drenched bed foam. Another collapsed.

Others picked up scrap metal they hope to sell somewhere.

“Aside from being emotionally devastated again, wala nang naisalba. Yung iba, konti lang. They are in complete wreck, financially, emotionally, psychologically,” ARMM Assemblyman Zia Alonto Adiong, spokesperson of the Lanao del Sur Provincial Crisis Management Committee during the five-month siege, told MindaNews.

Three days per sector

Ground Zero was home to at least 27,000 families in 24 barangays before May 23. Assistant Secretary Felix Castro, field office manager of Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM) told MindaNews that the residents then constituted 27,000 families, 11,163 of whom were home owners while the rest were “sharers and renters.”

Ground Zero is now referred to by the military as Most Affected Area (MAA) and has been divided into nine sectors, with each sector allocated three days each for the visits.

Castro told MindaNews in a text message Wednesday that a total of 979 families and 856 vehicles entered Sector 1 — comprising barangays Tolali, Daguduban and Bubonga Lilod Madaya — on April 1, 2 and 3:  48 families and 450 vehicles in Tolali; 472 families and 386 vehicles in Daguduban; and 26 families and 20 vehicles in Bubonga Lilod Madaya.

Castro said a total of 816 families had registered to visit Sector 1 but more families enlisted on the actual day of visit.

Sector 1 was the first area declared open for visitation. Residents are allowed to visit their sectors for three days (except Fridays which is a holy day for Muslims) each from April 1 to May 10.

In the initial announcements, each family is entitled to have seven representatives aged 16 and above, and two vehicles. But in the information released on March 28, this was revised to only one vehicle and “seven representatives per structure per daycan enter the MAA,” apparently because each structure usually has several families.

Ground Zero comprises 24 barangays — Banggolo Poblacion, Bubonga Lilod Madaya, Daguduban,
Dansalan, Datu Naga, Datu sa Dansalan,  Kapantaran,
Lilod Madaya (Poblacion), Lumbac Marinaut,Lumbaca Madaya (Poblacion), Marinaut East,
Marinaut West,Moncado Colony,  Moncado Kadilingan, Norhaya Village, Raya Madaya I, Raya Madaya II, Sabala Manao, Sabala Manao Proper, Tolali, Tuca Marinaut, Wawalayan Marinaut, Sangcay Dansalan and South Madaya Proper.

UXOs, skeletal remains

Tomawis said they found skeletal remains behind where their house used to stand but could not tell if these were human or animal bones. She said they immediately reported this to the authorities, as they had been told to do during the orientation.

Tomawis said some of her constituents also reported seeing skeletal remains but could not also say if these were the remains of humans or animals.

Unexploded ordnance (UXOs) were also reported.

Col. Romeo Brawner, Deputy Commander of Task Force Ranao told MindaNews  that according to their Explosives and Ordnance Team, one 60 mm was reported on Day 1 and six 40 mm and one hand grenade on Day 2.

He said the 60 mm was found in Upper Lilod Saduc.

China-Ph consortium

Ground Zero residents worry that they will not be able to return home in the plan to build a “new Marawi.”

The proposal of Bagong Marawi Consortium, composed of five Chinese and four local firms and led by China State Construction Engineering Corp. Ltd. “was already selected and negotiation for the terms of reference, costing and project details will start April 2” and the Swiss Challenge will be undertaken by first week of May, Housing Secretary Eduardo del Rosario, TFBM chair told MindaNews Sunday afternoon.

While negotiations are going on between “the Developer and Technical Working Group,” a team composed of representatives from the local government units of Marawi, Lanao del Sur and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, TFBM and the Developer will also conduct “ground consultations (with) all stakeholders” on the second and third week of April, he said.

“The team’s output will be incorporated in the negotiation to come up with the final MAA Rehab and Development Plan,” del Rosario said, adding they are targeting the last week of April as deadline as this will be subjected to Swiss Challenge on the first week of May.

On Monday, Del Rosario named the consortium members as China State Construction Engineering Corp. Ltd; Anhui Huali Construction Group Co. Ltd; China Geo Engineering Corp; TBEA Co., Ltd.; and Shandong Jinyuan Homes Industry Development Co. Ltd. — all from China; and Future Homes Ph Inc.; A. Brown Company, Inc.; H.S. Pow Construction and Development; and SDW Realty & Devt Inc. — based in the Philippines.

Swiss Challenge

Del Rosario explained the Swiss Challenge in a press briefing in Malacanang on December 1.

“Ang ginawa natin dito, we called all probable developers, big-time developers, foreign and national. We allowed them to see the most affected area, ‘yung 24 barangays. And they will be submitting their unsolicited proposal. Pagka na-i-submit ‘yung unsolicited proposal, I will have it presented to the Cabinet para ma-decide kung alin ‘yung the best concept na pwedeng i-apply sa Marawi City,” he said.

“Kasi dapat makita natin dito na talagang at the end of the day, it’s a new city, lalo na ‘yung central business district at talagang mapaganda natin, hindi lang better but much, much better. ‘Pag na-select ‘yung isang proponent, this will be subjected to Swiss challenge. But that any developer can challenge that development project with corresponding amount. Let’s say, sinabi niya, ‘We will do it at 100 billion.’ Here comes another developer: ‘O … we can do it similarly for 75 billion.’ Pag nag-challenge at hindi kaya nung initial proponent ‘yung 75 billion, the project will go to the other developer,” he said.

Del Rosario said the Swiss Challenge is a faster process than going through public bidding.

Invasion of different kind

On March 29, on the eve of the “M’Balingan Tano sa Ground Zero Peacful Protest Rally,” the Ranaw Multi Sectoral Movement (RMSM) issued an open letter of appeal to President Rodrigo Duterte to grant the Meranaws their right to rebuild Marawi City as they rejected the proposed rehabilitation plans “being imposed upon us” — including an ecozone and a military camp — by “those who live far from us.”

The letter described their future as “threatening” because “forces are moving that threaten to do far greater damage to our people than what the war has done.”

“In the guise of rebuilding our homes, 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,” the appeal, distributed via social media and ead before the rally in Marawi last Friday, said.

In a statement on April 3, Drieza Lininding, chair of the Moro Consensus Group, said Ground Zero residents “will fight for our birthright to the end.”

“This is clearly an imposition to us and their plan is completely alien to our wishes which are to return and rebuild our home with or without government assistance.

TFBM can be likened or is no different from the terrorist group that occupied Marawi for unilaterally and forcefully imposing their plan without seeking our consent and respecting our rights,” Lininding said.

Del Rosario told MindaNews on Friday that the claims of RMSM have “no reasonable basis since the LGUs (local government units) have been part of our consultation process.”

“We intend to cascade our initial development plan to all sectors this April before its finalization. I have emphasized during our 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,” he said.(Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)