Marawi’s ‘Ground Zero’ residents spend 6th Ramadan as ‘bakwits;’ compensation bill still unsigned after 22 days

DAVAOI CITY (MindaNews / 06 April) – ‘Ground Zero,’ the 250-hectare, 24-barangay former main battle area in Marawi City between government forces and the Islamic State-inspired Maute Group and its allies in 2017, remains a ‘ghost town’ five years later, its displaced residents spending their sixth Ramadan as ‘bakwits’ (evacuees) living in relatives’ houses elsewhere, in rented apartments in neighboring cities, or in transitory shelters in the city’s outskirts.

New structures have been constructed – a museum, a school of living traditions, a park, barangay halls, health centers, school buildings, among others – but who will use them when residents displaced by the war five years ago have yet to return home?  

According to the accomplishment report of Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM) as of March 30, 2022, out of 17,793 ‘Ground Zero’ families displaced by the war in 2017, only 95 families or 0.53% have been able to return home. A total of 5,484 families are living in 22-square meter transitory shelters on 36-square meter lots and 838 of those who used to live in the three-meter and 20-meter easements of Lake Lanao and Agus River have been relocated to permanent shelters.

“Returning home” is a challenge as most of the structures destroyed by war and exposure to the elements in the last five years have yet to be repaired or rebuilt. For the majority who have had to experience a double whammy in five years – Marawi Siege and the COVID-19 pandemic — money is a major problem. 

Ruined buildings await the return of their owners in ‘Ground Zero,’ Marawi City on 1 April 2022. Many displaced residents are waiting for the monetary compensation so they could rebuild their homes and shops. MindaNews photo by GREGORIO C. BUENO

The two houses of Congress have passed the proposed Marawi Siege Victims Compensation Act of 2022 which provides tax-free monetary compensation for loss of properties and loss of lives half a decade ago. 

The Senate passed Senate Bill 2420 on third and last reading on January 31 while the House of Representatives passed House Bill 9925 on third and last reading on February 2, adopting the Senate version as an amendment, thereby doing away with the bicameral conference committee meeting. 

It took both houses six weeks to submit the enrolled bill to the Office of the President – on March 15, 2022. As of April 5, or 21 days later, the President has yet to sign it into law. 

If the President does not sign it within 30 days from receipt of the copy in his office, it will lapse into law. For this particular bill, by April 14. 

Compensation claimants

The proposed Marawi Siege Victims Compensation Act of 2022, provides compensation to three kinds of claimants: those whose properties were destroyed and those who lost their loved ones during the five-month war in 2017; and those whose properties were demolished during the implementation of the Marawi Recovery, Rehabilitation, and Reconstruction Program. 

To be compensated are those who suffered total or partial destruction of their residential property; cultural property and facilities such as mosques, madaris, schools and colleges, hospitals and other health facilities; commercial property or those used exclusively for commercial or business purposes; and other properties such as “house appliances, jewelries, machineries, rice mills, and other equipment of value” in 32 of Marawi City’s 96 barangays that were devastated by the war. 

The 32 barangays refer to the 24 barangays of ‘Ground Zero’ or what is now known as Most Affected Area (MAA) and eight barangays that also suffered damages, or “Other Affected Areas.”

The release of the monetary compensation, however, will not be immediate as funding for such purpose has yet to be allocated in the national budget for 2023.  

READ: Marawi Compensation: what claimants can expect to receive starting 2023 

6 Ramadans

In 2017, residents of Marawi City and neighboring areas in Lanao del Sur were busy preparing for Ramadan which was expected to start on May 26.  On May 23, however, armed men in black, waving black IS flags suddenly appeared in key areas in the city, after a botched arrest of the Abu Sayyaf’s Isnilon Hapilon, Emir of the IS in Southeast Asia, in Basak Malutlut.  

The military would later say it was not a “botched” raid but an “abortive” one that allegedly saved the country’s lone Islamic city from an attack by the Maute-IS group during Ramadan. 

By evening of May 23, 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte, then visiting Moscow, declared Martial Law across Mindanao’s 27 provinces and 33 cities and had it extended thrice until December 31, 2019. 

Duterte declared Marawi “liberated from the terrorist influence” on October17, 2017 and on October 23, 2017, exactly five months to the day the siege began, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced the termination of hostilities between the government troops and the IS-linked Maute Group in Marawi City.

President Rodrigo Duterte joins the symbolic flag-raising rites inside the Jamiatul Philippine Al- Islamia in Banggolo District, Marawi City on 17 October 2017 and declares Marawi City “liberated from the terrorist infuence”. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

Five years and six Ramadans later, new structures, school buildings and barangay halls, a park, among others, have been constructed, some roads have been improved, the Grand Mosque and a few other mosques have been repaired and repainted, but where are the residents?

If they have money, they can return to ‘Ground Zero’ to repair or rebuild their homes and shops but according to the announcements posted by TFBM, the first step is to secure a building permit from the Kathagombalay One-Stop Shop at the City Engineer’s Office from 9 a.m. to 12 noon on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 

Applicants must bring the following: house tag from the social cartography of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, land titles and deeds, house design plan, barangay clearance and Bureau of Internal Revenue tax clearance. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)