Return of Marawi residents to ‘Ground Zero’ delayed some more

MARAWI CITY (MindaNews / 15 Aug) – Residents of the 24 barangays in the 250-hectare “Ground Zero,” the former battleground between government forces and the Maute Group in 2017, cannot yet return to their villages to repair or rebuild their homes by the first week of September as promised by government officials.

A marker stands where a departed relative was buried in Sector 1 of “Ground Zero” (also called Most Affected Area) in Marawi City on Wednesday (14 August 2019). Graves such as this are among the reasons why some residents refuse to allow their buildings to be demolished. MindaNews photo by FROILAN GALLARDO

Housing Secretary Eduardo del Rosario, chair of Task Force Bangon Marawi, said during a visit at the Boganga relocation site here that the delay is caused by building owners’ reluctance to allow Army engineers to demolish their structures, the presence of still unexploded bombs, and land ownership issues.

Del Rosario said there are 6,800 structures inside Ground Zero.

He said that as of July 2019, only 4,000 of the owners have given their consent for authorities to demolish their buildings.

He added that a committee from the Marawi local government unit is still processing applications from residents to demolish or construct.

The committee, Del Rosario noted, has to check whether the structures are safe enough to rebuild. “If not, we have to demolish them,” he added.

He said that owners who still refuse to give permits would have to shoulder the expenses in the demolition of their buildings.

Most of the buildings in the 24 barangays in “Ground Zero” were destroyed after months of fighting in 2017.

Many of the city’s 180,000 residents are living in temporary shelters in barangays Boganga and Sagonsongan, while others are staying with relatives in the cities of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro.

Meranaos have made numerous appeals to government officials to allow them to return to their houses inside “Ground Zero.”

A Meranao family stands outside their house at the Boganga relocation site in Marawi City on Wednesday (14 August 2019). A village marker stands before their house showing the layout of the temporary shelters. MindaNews photo by FROILAN GALLARDO

Marawi Mayor Majul Gandamra said their committee is encountering land ownership issues aside from checking the structural integrity of the ruined buildings.

“Just a few days ago, two groups of landowners came to our office and each of them have land titles to back their claims,” Gandamra said

He said in cases like this, they leave it to the courts to decide, which Gandamra acknowledged is a long and tedious process.

Other Marawi residents, fed up with the long wait, have taken matters in their own hands.

Roderick Ibanez, chief of the National Housing Authority Marawi Project Management Office, said 81 “unregistered” families have occupied temporary shelters in barangay Boganga.

He said they have referred the matter to the Marawi local government. (Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)