Meranaw Prof on revisiting Marawi siege: “We lost our identity in a year’s time”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 20 May) — Wednesday, May 23, will be the first anniversary of  the Marawi Siege and the declaration of martial law, and while the physical destruction of Marawi has been repeatedly captured in dramatic photographs and video clips, a retired Literature professor at the Mindanao State University wants the world to understand the soul of the Meranaws, that the recovery and rehabilitation program they need “is not only infrastructure but the totality of our being, our identity.”

Retired Prof. Dalomabi Lao Bula, a resident displaced from Marawi’s Ground Zero, the 250-hectare former main battle area between government forces and the IS-inspired Maute Group and its allies, told a forum Saturday on “Revising Maawi from the lens of Inter-faith Dialogue and Multiculturalism” that “the most important rehabilitation is that of our identity as Meranaws.”

“We lost our identity in one year’s time, and we pray to Allah to give it back through the help of His other creation, like you, and all the others, most especially the religious groups,” Bula said.

Retired Literature Professor Dalomabi Lao Bula of the Mindanao State University in Marawi City explains at the forum Saturday on “Revising Maawi from the lens of Inter-faith Dialogue and Multiculturalism” that “the most important rehabilitation is that of our identity as Meranaws.” With Bula are hostage survivor Fr. Teresito Soganub and Mags Maglana of Konsyensya Dabaw. MindaNews photo by GG BUENO

She noted that what they are experiencing, having been forced into a diaspora, is akin to the “the historical injustices inflicted on us by the colonizers through the system of government given to us.”

Before May 23, 2017, Day 1 of the Marawi Siege, Ground Zero, now referred to as the MAA (Most Affected Area) comprised 24 of Marawi’s 96 barangays. It was

home to at least 27,000 families, 11,163 of whom were home owners while the rest were “sharers and renters,” according to Assistant Secretary Felix Castro, Field Office Mananger of Task Force Bangon Marawi.

Ground Zero was the commercial district of the city, home to historical landmarks such as the Grand Mosque or Islamic Center) and according to Bula, around 200 mosques), the Padian (market), the Sambitory building, the Rizal Park, among others. It was also home to the Catholics’ St. Mary’s Cathedral and the United Church of Christ in the Philippines’ Dansalan College.

It was also the graveyard of their ancestors as Meranaws buried their loved ones within their compounds. (Burying in cemeteries is a recent practice)

Housing Secretary Eduardo del Rosario, concurrent chair of Task Force Bangon Marawi, said residents of Ground Zero will likely be able to return to their villages to rebuild their homes by first quarter of 2020.

“Can we be called Meranaws without the lake?”

For Bula, it may be beyond 2020. Meanwhile, where will she and other residents of Ground Zero go?

“Many, most probably, will go to Christian places for livelihood and education of their children,” said Bula, who fled to predominantly Christian Cagayan de Oro City to escape the war.

She asked several questions: “Can we construct as many mosques in non-Muslim places? Can we be called Meranaws without the lake?”

In this photo taken from  the Mindanao State University campus on August 11, 2017, Day 81 of the Marawi Siege,  smoke can be seen rising in downtown Marawi City after military planes dropped bombs. The military said the Islamic State-inspired Maute gunmen had been driven to houses near Lake Lanao. It would take more than two months before combat operations were terminated. MindaNews photo by FROILAN GALLARDO

“The lake / ranaw, is our identity. It is our language and name, Meranaw, the people of the lake. If we will be separated from the lake, we will no longer be called Meranaws,” she reiterated. She explained that most of their mosques are . constructed along the lakeshore and the Agus riverbank “because of our need for water for ablution for the five times a day prayers. This is how important the lake is to us Meranaws.”

“What happens to our extended family? We cannot live without relatives because They are our allies in peace and war, in bounty and nothingness. What happens to those with two to four families because of the religiously-sanctioned polygyny practice? We will be experiencing again and again discrimination, exploitation, prejudices, and oppression in places outside Marawi,” she said.

Where, Bula asked, can Meranaw children avail of Islamic and Arabic education?

“Are there Madrasah schools in Christian places?” she asked.

And a major question: “What will happen to our senses? How can it remain Islamized when what is mostly eaten, seen, touched, felt and heard in non-Muslim places are un-Islamic? Our religious beliefs are at stake,” she said at the forum initiated by Konsyensya Dabaw and VSO, and hosted by the Ateneo de Davao University.

She asked those who attended the forum: “how far will you walk with us now that there are no LGUs (local government units) to lean on? The lack of leadership because of the unorganized Meranaws, the mosques need to be constructed, the indifferent media. Please help us. .. let the other side of our story be heard. The real story,” she appealed.

“We cannot do it alone because ‘no man is an island’ but a part of the main,” she added.

Culture and Religion 

Among the participants at the forum was Davao City’s Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla, Bishop-administrator of Marawi from 1987 to 1991 and co-chair of the Bishops-Ulama Conference since 1996. He said his years as Bishop of Marawi and in the BUC had taught him “one lesson which could be advised to all of us non-Muslims trying to help the Muslims: And this advice is that to the Meranaws, culture and religion are very, very important.”

The retired archbishop said it is important to studey the Meranaw culture and how the Meranaws live Islam “because culture gives expression to … Islamic faith and Islamic faith is the soul of Meranaw culture.”

“And I believe that given all the means, the Meranaws can rebuild Marawi by themselves. Given opportunities, Meranaws can rebuild marawi,” he said.

Davao CIty’s Archbishop Emeritus Fernando Capalla, who served as Bishop-Administrator of the Prelature of Marawi in the late 1980s until early 1990s, said The retired archbishop explains to the forum on “Revising Marawi” on Saturday, 19 May 2018, that it is important to study the Meranaw culture and how the Meranaws live Islam “because culture gives expression to … Islamic faith and Islamic faith is the soul of Meranaw culture.” MindaNews photo by GG BUENO

Capalla was the bishop who sent Fr. Teresito “Chito” Soganub to Marawi City for interfaith dialogue. Soganub, who was held hostage on Day 1 of the Siege, stayed in Marawi City for 23 years until his escape from the ISIS-Maute group on September 16.

Soganub, a co-panelist at the forum, echoed Bula’s statements about the need for participation of the Meranaws in the rehabilitaton of Marawi.

“Dapat may say ang mga residente …sa Ground Zero,'” he said, adding it is important as this will “define human dignity.”

No congregational prayers

Bula said more than 200 mosques inside Ground Zero “ay dumapa or pinadapa ng Marawi Siege” (were destroyed during the Marawi Siege), that congregational prayers have stopped in Ground Zero, that residents “are now praying at home, meaning they have no safe venue to gather together and discuss their plight.”

She listed six points in her appeal to President Rodrigo Duterte, the country’s first Mindanawon President, and the first to have Meranaw roots.

“Mr. President, with your sympathy and kind heart, we beg,” she said, for a “transparent and acceptable post-conflict damage assessment of private properties caused by the deliberate and excessive bombing;” the immediate passage of the reparation / compensation bill in Congress which she hopes the President would certify as urgent as “a manifestation of the government’s sincerity in rebuilding Marawi City.”

What remains of what used to be the homes or shops of residents in Marawi’s Ground Zero on 08 May 2018. MIndaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

She also asked for a Comprehensive Recovery and Rehabilitation Plan (CRRP) for Ground Zero that is “culturally and religiously sensitive,” which clearly identifies the spaces where public facilities and utilities will be constructed so that the internally displaced persons (IDPs) “are assured of the protection of their lands;” that Kapantaran Hill, where a new military camp is supposed to be constructed, be developed instead into a Peace Plaza or park for the Meranaws and tourists, and that the 400-million peso budget for the camp’s construction be used instead for the rehabilitation of Ground Zero.

Bula also asked for the “immediate and speedy clearing of debris” in Ground Zero and for “concrete government policies for the provision of humanitarian assistance and livelihood programs for IDPs until the completion of the rehabilitation program” in Ground Zero.

She lamented the construction of a new military camp ahead of the rehabilitation of Marawi and the President’s repeated visits to the military but not to the IDPs. “I have not heard of a Meranaw IDP family visited by him. We seem not to exist,” she said, adding it is “most probably” because he thinks Meranaws let the Maute Group into Marawi.

But Bula asked: “Who controls the airports, the seaports, the highways, and the intelligence machinery? Definitely, not the Meranaws! Before the Siege, the government already knew the ISIS were in because of the Butig and Piagapo attacks. Why put the blame on us? The government did not do its job to protect us,” she said.

“What an irony!”

She also found ironical President Duterte’s promise to the Maute Group

surrenderers in Marawi on May 11 that he would talk to newly-elected Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad about his plan to send them to Malaysia to study rubber and oil palm in Malaysia.

The President also vowed to bring the 25 Maute surrenderers to Malacañan Palace where they can talk. He also promised to give them land.

“Ya Allah! What an irony! The IDPs from Ground Zero had been forgotten for a year already, they have nothing, and the people who devastated their lives are the first to enjoy big-time livelihood program,” Bula said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)