Marawi residents to gov’t: ‘we want to return to our homes’

US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim reads along with students of the Amai Pakpak Elementary School in Marawi City on Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018. The US pledged $25 million for the rehabilitation of Marawi residents affected by the fighting last year. FROILAN GALLARDO

MARAWI  CITY (MindaNews/ 17 Oct) – After a year of living with their relatives and in evacuation camps, and saying they have enough of government promises, Marawi residents and students displaced by the fighting last year marched toward the Main Affected Area to demand that they be allowed to return and rebuild their homes.

“Please, let us go home!” the residents and students cried as they marched on Tuesday toward the bridge in the area called Pumping Station.

“If the government cannot afford to rebuild our homes, then they should allow us to return and rebuild our homes by ourselves,” Meranaw leader Agakhan Sharief said.

Sharief said residents are deeply frustrated because the government has yet to demolish a single building at the Main Affected Area and start the promised rehabilitation.

“We do not believe that the unexploded ordnance is the reason. Why can’t the government be candid enough to admit they have no money?” he said.

The rehabilitation of the city has become a thorny issue among the residents who have spent a year living with their relatives or in the squalid conditions of the evacuation camps.

The scheduled groundbreaking has been postponed several times much to the chagrin of residents who were hoping that the clearing of debris had started.

In a statement, Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM) Secretariat head lawyer Falconi Millar announced the postponement of the groundbreaking ceremony scheduled on Tuesday.

Millar said President Rodrigo Duterte would have led the ceremony but suddenly became unavailable.

He said it has been moved to Oct. 28 as Duterte would be available by then.

TFBM Field Office Manager Felix Castro Jr. apologized for the delay.

“We ask the residents to be patient with us,” he said.

He assured the residents that the rehabilitation program is backed by funds from the Department of Finance contrary to fears.

“We will not start unless there is no money backing it,” he said.

Marawi residents take to the streets to air their sentiments on the long-delayed rehabilitation of Marawi. Residents want answers to their many questions. MindaNews photo by FROILAN GALLARDO

International Committee of the Red Cross Iligan Field Manager Meher Khatcherian said there is an apparent lack of information exchange between affected residents and government agencies.

“It is this lack of information that caused tension between the two,” he said.

He said based on the ICRC numbers, there are still over 65,000 Marawi residents who cannot go back to their homes in the 24 barangays in the Main Affected Area.

He said over 20,000 residents live in tents in various evacuation centers and the rest stay in the houses of relatives not affected by the war.

“Both groups however suffer the same problems. They are tired of the situation. They have been displaced for a year with no certainty of going back to their lives,” he said.

Faykha Khayriyyah ALonto Ala, 18, a freshman at Mindanao State University aired the sentiment of the residents.

“We were glad and grateful that we were housed in tents when we fled our homes in the city. Temporary shelters to rest our weary mind and souls, we thought. But it has been almost a year and a half since then. A long, long one and a half years,” Ala said. (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)