DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 19 August) — Their villages have been reduced to rubble and for 15 months now, residents of the 24 barangays comprising Marawi City’s Ground Zero have been dispersed to other parts of Lanao del Sur, to neighboring Iligan and Cagayan de Oro cities and elsewhere but on September 22, they will cast their votes for their barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) officials, as will residents in the 72 other barangays of the country’s lone Islamic city.
The nation voted for barangay and SK officials on May 14 except in Marawi.
TheCommission on Elections’ (Comelec) Minute Resolution 18-0085 issued on January 31, 2018 allowed elections to proceed as scheduled in Mindanao despite martial law, “with the exception of Marawi City, the rehabilitation of which is ongoing.”
The Resolution also directed the election and Barangay Affairs Department to “conduct a physical/ocular/structural integrity study or assessment of the polling precincts in Marawi City and recommend whether or not to conduct election therein three months after the scheduled May 14, 2018 BSKE elections.”
Incumbent barangay officials are presently serving on holdover capacity.
In response to MindaNews’ query, Marawi Mayor Majul Gandamra in a text message said residents of Ground Zero “are now within the region” and that some are “now staying at different transitional shelters in Marawi and nearby towns.”
Gandamra explained that based on the recent distribution of relief packages by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) for Ground Zero constituents, “almost if not all constituents from that 24 barangays claimed their packages at the DSWD Marawi Satelite Office personally together with their respective barangay officials.”
“In other words, these constituents are within the reach to participate in the upcoming election. They can’t be disenfranchised on the mere assertion that they are IDPs. In fact as IDPs, their right to suffrage and right to choose their leaders should be respected,” Gandamra said, adding barangay officials who are “trying to oppose the election are those who do not want to be replaced or those who are third termers.”
He noted that when the Comelec, Department of Education, Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police visited the transitional shelters and evacuation centers in Marawi and nearby towns, “almost all of the affected constituent are in support of the conduct of barangay and SK elections. Only those barangay officials who don’t want to submit to the will of the electorate are in opposition to the election. Majority of our people support the election for a fresh mandate,” he said.
But where will the displaced Ground Zero residents vote?
“Mayron na mga designated areas in different schools kung saan accessible sa mga constituents. I don’t have the copies right now,” the mayor said.
Out of 96 barangays in Marawi City, 24 barangays comprise the 250-hectare Ground Zero, the main battle area between government forces and the ISIS-inspired Maute Group and its allies, and the object of daily air strikes during the five-month siege from May 23 to October 23. It is now referred to as the Most Affected Area or MAA.
The war rendered the residential and commercial structures uninhabitable and residents there have not been allowed to return to their villages except for three days per sector from April 1 to May 10 through the “Kambisita sa MAA” (Visit MAA) initiative of TFBM and the City Government of Marawi.
Housing Secretary Eduardo del Rosario, TFBM chair, told MindaNews in early April that Ground Zero residents can return to their villages to rebuild their homes “most likely first quarter 2020” after the debris clearing and site development which he reckoned then at 18 months from the supposed groundbreaking in June.
Since the groundbreaking has been reset to September 19, residents will likely be able to return second quarter on 2020, when the terms of office of those elected on September 22 shall have expired.
The term of office of the barangay and SK officials elected this year is only two years as mandated by RA 10952, which reset the barangay /SK elections to May 2018 and set the next election in May 2020.
The 24 barangays in Ground Zero are 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 1, Raya Madaya 2, Sabala Manao, Sabala Manao Proper, Tolali, Tuca Marinaut, Wawalayan Marinaut, Sangcay Dansalan, South Madaya Proper. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)