Religious minorities will return to Marawi when Meranaws shall have returned

MARAWI CITY (MindaNews / 13 May) — Catholics and Protestants in the country’s lone Islamic City, will return here to rebuild their churches and schools only when the Meranaws shall have returned home and rebuilt their city.

Assistant Secretary Felix Castro, Field Office Manager of Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM) said the military had earlier declared the Catholics’ St. Mary’s Cathedral and the Protestants’ Dansalan College campus — both located in Ground Zero — free of explosives and had in fact allowed the bishops to visit the Cathedral and the United Church of Christ in the Philippines to Dansalan College, ahead of the Kambisita sa MAA (Visit the Most Affected Area) on April 1 to May 10.

The military allowed Muslim religious leaders to visit the Grand Mosque or Islamic Center in November last year, a month after combat operations were terminated on October 23.

The sight of the devastated St. Mary’s Cathedral in Marawi City came as a shock to a delegation of bishops who made a quick visit to the site in March.

Residents scavenge for whatever has value from the ruins of their homes and buildings during the Kambisita sa MAA (Visit the Most Affected Area) on May 9, 2018. Kambisita allowed residents of Ground Zero to visit their villages at three days per sector, from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. on April 1 to May 10. MindaNews photo by FROILAN GALLARDO

Rey Barnido, head of Duyog Marawi (Accompany Marawi) who oversees the Catholic program to assist Muslim and Christian war survivors, narrated some of the bishops were in tears when they went inside the bullet-pocked cathedral. 

Although the structure of the cathedral still stands, its roof is bullet-riddled, with gaping holes where grenades exploded.

Broken religious icons stood in silence on a side altar.

At the height of the Marawi siege, videos were posted on social media by the ISIS-inspired gunmen showing how they destroyed religious icons inside the Cathedral and burned the Dansalan College.

“One of the bishops knelt on the tiled floor. It was very sad to see what happened to the church,” Barnido told MindaNews.

He said the bishops who visited the St. Mary’s Cathedral were Bishops Edwin dela Pena of Marawi, Severo Caermare of Dipolog, Angelito Lampon of Jolo, Julius Tonel of Ipil, Emmanuel Cabajar of Pagadian, and Archbishops Martin Jumoad of Ozamiz and Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro. Fr. Jose Roel Casas, the administrator of Isabela prelature in Basilan was also present.

“Bishop dela Pena told us we will rebuild the cathedral only after the Marawi residents have rebuilt their city and their masjids,” Barnido said.

Barnido said the Bishop wants a church with a simple design to replace the 84-year old twice renovated cathedral.

Bishop dela Pena told MindaNews the St. Mary’s Cathedral started as a parish church in 1934 and dedication of the Church to Mary Help of Christians as Cathedral seat of the Prelature of Marawi was done in May 1977, during hte installation and taking possession of the Prelature by its first Bishop-Prelate, Bienvenido Tudtud.

“The old church was raised to its dignity as a cathedral by this act of solemn dedication. In due time, it was renovated two times. The second time it was renovated was only half-completed when the Maute-ISIS came to desecrate and destroy the church and nearby Bishop’s House and Chancery Office,” he said.

A last look inside St. Mary’s Cathedral, Prelature of Marawi on May 8, 2018. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

Housing Secretary Eduardo del Rosario, chair of the Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM) had earlier said residents can go back to Ground Zero to rebuild their homes in the first quarter of 2020.

The 250-hectare Ground Zero, the former main battle area (MBA) between government forces and the ISIS-inspired Maute Group and its allies, comprises 24 of Marawi’s 96 barangays. The area used to house the commercial district as well as the St. Mary’s Cathedral and the Dansalan College.

Christians and Protestants are a minority in the Muslim-dominated city.

Catholics comprise only around one to two per cent of the city’s 210,000 population. Many of them found work here as laborers, store assistants, and carpenters.

“What is there to return to?”

“What is there to return to if the rest of the Marawi residents are not yet allowed to return?” asked Fedelinda Tawagon, President of the Dansalan College.

Tawagon said all 18 buildings in the five-hectare school compound including the four-story classroom building were destroyed during the five-month siege.

“Everything was destroyed. All buildings are gone,” she told MindaNews.

Skeletal remains of one of the buildings of Dansalan College, which was burned down. This school is run by the United Church of Christ in the Philippines. BOBBY TIMONERA / MindaNews

Tawagon said this was what they found when the military allowed them to visit the campus on November 23, 2017 and February 24, 2018.

She said the buildings were too damaged for repairs and it would be far more costly to repair them.

Tawagon said they have submitted their recommendations on how to go about the reconstruction of their campus but TFBM has yet to act on it.

She said this includes a petition for compensation of an 11-hectare land where the Armed Forces of the Philippines wants to construct a military base.

Tawagon said the 11-hectare land used to the farm site of Dansalan College. It is separate property from the school. 

“Naturally we want to be compensated because that land is legally registered to the school. We own that land,” Tawagon said.

On January 30 this year, President Rodrigo Duterte led the groundbreaking ceremonies of the proposed military camp in Barangay Kapataran overlooking Lake Lanao and this city.

“I am going to set a camp here but I will pay you. This is a military reservation pero may mga may-ari naman ng lupa. O sige na lang, kung anong makukuha nila di bayaran na lang” (but some claim ownership of the lands here. It’s okay, we will just pay for it), Duterte said.

“We will pay para walang gulo” (to avoid trouble), Duterte added.

The military camp will be the second military camp in Marawi City. The first, Kampo Ranao, headquarters of the Army 103rdInfantry Division, is located opposite the proposed military camp and also overlooks the city.

Brig. Gen. Bienvenido Datuin, spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines said a budget of P51.3 million to buy the 11-hectare land from Dansalan College was already approved and allocated.

Datuin said the school will soon be compensated for the land.

Dansalan College was founded by American missionary Frank Laubach in 1950. It started with a library and later a classroom for Muslim students.

Before May 23, 2017, Day 1 of the Marawi Siege, Dansalan College had 4,000 students, majority of them Muslims.

One of its graduates was Omar Maute, leader of the ISIS-inspired Maute group.

For now, Tawagon said they are concentrating their resources on building another school in nearby Iligan city.

Castro said the leveling of all structures inside Ground Zero would start in June and would last for ten months. (Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)