Marawi’s displaced ask senators: “let us go home;” appeal for electricity, water and financial assistance to repair houses

Angry Marawi residents march in Iligan City ahead of the public hearing held by the Senate special committee on Marawi rehabilitation on Friday, Feb. 21, 2020. The displaced residents demanded that they be allowed to go home. MindaNews photo by FROILAN GALLARDO

MARAWI CITY (MindaNews / 21 February) –  Displaced Marawi residents in Saguiaran, Lanao del Sur, started gathering on the side of the highway here at around 8:45 a.m. on Friday, bearing placards and tarpaulins asking the Senate’s Special Committee on Marawi City Rehabilitation  to “let us go home.”

In Barangay Tolali in Marawi’s Ground Zero, at around 11 a.m.,  residents awaited the arrival of the senators, with placards asking for electricity and water, the women appealing for government to assist them financially to repair their bullet-riddled houses.

“We desperately need electricity ASAP,” “Pangakong ibangon ang Marawi, nasaan na? Nasaan na?” and “To our Beloved President Duterte, Kailan darating ang tulong (financial assistance) sa mga Ground Zero Marawi people?” were among the messages written on cartolina paper.

Sittie Hajar Ibrahim, a resident, said they want to return home but there is still no electricity and water and they need financial assistance to repair their houses.

Addressing President Duterte, Ibrahim said, “Nawala na po ang lahat-lahat sa amin. Sana po makita ninyo ang tunay na kalagayan namin ditto. Pinabalik po kami pinayagan po kami magrepair, the problem is yung iba merong siya pang repair yung iba walang-wala” (We lost everything. We hope you can see our real situation here. We were allowed to return, to repair our houses but the problem is, while some have the means, most have lost everything), adding that majority have lost their means of livelihood.

Five senators from the Special Committee, three of them from Mindanao, visited  Marawi’s Ground Zero and transitional shelter sites Friday morning, February 21, before convening a public hearing at the gymnasium of the Mindanao State University–Iligan Institute of Technology in Iligan City, scheduled at 2p.m.

Senator Christopher Laurence “Bong” Go, vice chair of Senate special committee on Marawi rehabilitation, during the public hearing at the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institure of Technology gym in Iligan City Friday, February 21, 2020. Seated beside him are committee chair Senator Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa and Senator Francis Tolentino. MindaNews photo by FROILAN GALLARDO

At 2:45 p.m., the hearing had yet to start as the senators had not arrived from Marawi. Displaced Marawi residents gathered in Iligan City to “walk for Marawi,” a march from the Children’s Park to the MSU-IIT gymnasium to appeal for the “unconditional return of Marawi IDPs to Ground Zero.”

In Saguiaran, the placard-bearing evacuees apparently thought the senators would pass the highway but Senator Ronald ‘Bato’ dela Rosa, committee chair, and Senator Francis Tolentino, who arrived from Manila ahead of the three other Senators, had proceeded to the transitional shelter sites in Barangay Sagonsongan way ahead of their supposed 8:45 a.m. schedule.

Senators Christopher Lawrence ‘Bong’ Go and Imee Marcos, both members of the Committee, and Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri also failed to see the evacuees as they flew in on a helicopter. They were late and were not around during the briefing of the National Housing Authority at the Rizal Park.

All five visiting senators are party-mates of President Rodrigo Duterte who declared Marawi “liberated from the terrorist influence” on October 17, 2017.

The other committee members are Senators Aquilino Pimentel, Emmanuel Pacquiao and Risa Hontiveros, the lone opposition member.  Of the seven-member committee, all five Mindanawon Senators are members: Dela Rosa, Go, Zubiri, Pimentel and Pacquiao.

Senate Resolutions 66 and 29

According to dela Rosa’s invitation letter, the hearing, in aid of legislation, is on Senate Resolutions 66 and 29.

Senate Resolution 66, introduced by Zubiri on August 5, 2019, reconstituted the Special Committee on Marawi City’s Rehabiliation that was set up through Senate Resolution 57 on August 9, 2017, while the Marawi Siege was ongoing. The Special Committee, then chaired by Senator Gringo Honasan, was supposed to submit a report to the Senate, along with its recommendations for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Marawi, “within 90 days”  from the date it was first convened.

Children join their elders in staging a picket in Saguiaran town, Lanao del Sur to express their dissatisfaction on the government’s rehabilitation program for Marawi City on Friday, February 21, 2020. Cries of “ we want to go home” rang out as residents stage similar pickets in several areas in Marawi and Iligan City. MindaNews photo by FROILAN GALLARDO

The Committee failed to accomplish its mandate when the 17th Congress adjourned in June 2019.

The Special Committee was mandated to study, review, assess, examine, investigate, and inquire into the extent of damage to the properties, infrastructure, and facilities, such as roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, buildings, and other structures in Marawi City; the estimated cost of construction and rehabilitation of the damaged properties, infrastructure, and facilities; actions that may be necessary for the immediate post-disaster recovery, rehabilitation, and normalization of the community; and such other matters that may be necessary for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Marawi City.

Senate Resolution 29, introduced by Senator Ralph Recto on July 24, 2019, directed the committee to look into “the status of Marawi Reconstruction and Rehabilitation and the utilization of funds for the purpose, with the end in view of ensuring that Marawi residents affected by the siege will benefit from the program.”

Senate Resolution 66 cited reports that the funds accumulated from government appropriations and donations intended for the victims of the Marawi City siege and for the rehabilitation of Marawi City “are poorly utilized or otherwise released and utilized to sponsor the Hajj (Pilgrimage to Mecca) expenses of select individuals instead of addressing the damage caused by the Marawi City crisis to property, infrastructure, and facilities which require extensive repair, rehabilitation, and reconstruction works and activities.”

It also noted that because of the slow progress in rehabilitation, there are still number of displaced families and individuals “and continued loss of economic opportunities as well as physical, emotional, and psychological distress of the Marawi City siege victims.”

Senate Resolution 29 sought to know the reasons behind the “poor utilization” of funds intended supposedly for the siege victims.

Six months after Resolution 29 was filed, at least 406 million pesos of funds supposedly for Marawi rehabilitation were reverted to the national treasury.

Mosinoma Miguel, 51, complains that there is no electricity and water in the house she is rebuilding in Barangay Tulali, Marawi City. A total of 300 residents have been allowed to return to their houses in the Main Affected Area but many are complaining of lack of government support. MindaNews photo taken 21 February 2020 by FROILAN GALLARDO

The resolution also noted that the slow-paced rehabilitation has prolonged the agony of the displaced residents, leading to “loss of economic opportunities as well as physical, emotional and psychological distress” of the victims of the siege.

It cited the report of MindaNews on displaced residents still living in evacuation centers, transitional shelters and in relatives’ homes.

The resolution said it was “imperative for Congress to determine the status” of  Marawi’s rehabilitation “to ascertain the cause of the seeming slow progress in its implementation.”

It  cited the importance for Congress to call the attention of the national government agencies and stakeholders concerned “to look into possible remedial measures to expedite the rehabilitation of Marawi City in order to enable the displaced families and individuals to reclaim their homes and immediately live their normal lives at the soonest possible time.”

The Committee invited 63 resource persons to the hearing 37 of them from the national and regional government (among them eight Members of Parliament from the Bangsamoro Transition Authority and the Deputy Chief Minister and chair of the Special Committee on Marawi Rehabilitation in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao), eight from the local government, three from the academe, and 15 from non-governmental organizations.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)