MARAWI CITY (MindaNews / 04 April) –The lone woman among 10 presidential candidates arrived at the rally site – the Open Court in the Area 6 transitory shelters for displaced residents in Barangay Sagonsongan – shortly before 11 a.m. on Friday, April 1, clad in a pink long-sleeved blouse, her pink hijab and pink face mask allowing the audience to see only her eyes, eyebrows and forehead.
“Leni, Leni, Leni,” the crowd of predominantly young supporters chanted as Vice President Leni Robredo made her way to the stage. Many of them, mostly student volunteers distributing leaflets and heart-shaped pink Leni-Kiko fans, arrived an hour before the scheduled 8 a.m. start of the rally dubbed “LENIwanag Marawi.”
Robredo said she had to finish her speech by 11:15 a.m. It was a Friday, the holiest of days among Muslims, and ending at 11:15 a.m. would give the predominantly Muslim supporters enough time to go the mosques for the congregational prayers at noon.
Lanao del Sur is the third area in the five-province, three-city Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) that Robredo visited. Her first stop in her BARMM sortie early morning of March 16 was the Grand Mosque in Cotabato City. By evening she was in Basilan and 16 days later, in Lanao del Sur. In 2016, Robredo won in four of the five provinces then under the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) – Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Basilan and Tawi-tawi — but lost to Marcos Jr. in Sulu.
In her 15-minute speech, Robredo reported on what she has accomplished in Lanao del Sur before, during and after the Marawi Siege of 2017, what she intends to do if elected President, especially on the rehabilitation of Marawi and compensation for those who lost their homes, livelihood and loved ones five years ago.
Before ending her speech, she greeted the Muslims “Ramadan Mubarak” on the expected start of the month-long fasting the next day (the Grand Mufti of the Bangsamoro would announce Friday evening that Ramadan will begin on Sunday, April 3).
“Kailangan ko na pong tapusin dahil mag-11:15 na, mag prayer time na po tayo. Pero eto lang po sandali. Bago lang po ako magtapos, bukas mag-uumpisa na ang taunang paggunita natin ng Holy Month of Ramadan. Nakikiisa po kami sa napakahalagang yugto ng buhay ninyong lahat at sa inyo po lahat, Ramadan Mubarak!” (I have to end this as it is almost 11:15, it will be prayer time. But before I end this, tomorrow the yearly Holy Month of Ramadan will begin. We are with you in this very important part of your lives and to all of you, Ramadan Mubarak!”)
Right and Wrong
“Ramadan Mubarak” literally means ‘blessed Ramadan’ but according to a National World article, “Ramadan Mubarak” can also mean “may this Ramadan clear your understanding and judgment between right and wrong.”
Robredo’s rally venue, Area 6, is where some of the transitory shelters have been built for those who were forced to flee their homes in 2017. Nearby is Area 7, site of the Office of the Vice President’s project, Angat Buhay Village, funded through donations from the private sector.
Onstage, there were two huge tarpaulins, one bearing the theme of the rally “LENIwanag Marawi” (literally there will be light Marawi) and on the other side an admonition – “Gising Moro!” (Moro wake up!) and a question: “Anda so Maratabat ka?” (Where is your maratabat?), referring to the Meranaws’ deep sense of honor.
Haroun Alrashid Alonto Lucman, Jr., former Vice Governor of the now defunct ARMM and one of the leaders of L4L (Lanao for Leni) Coalition, a group comprising at least 30 organizations and movements supporting Robredo for President and Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan for Vice President, told MindaNews their “Moro wake up” message was addressed to Meranaws who intend to vote for Marcos, to remind them of the “atrocities/abuses” committed by the dictator Ferdinand Edralin Marcos who was ousted by People Power in 1986 and the fact that, among others, “BBM (Ferdinand Marcos, Jr.) also made a statement during the Bangsamoro Basic Law hearing in the Senate where he said the Meranaws have no right over Lake Lanao.”
Marcos Jr. was chair of the Senate Committee on Local Government that deliberated on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law in 2015 and 2016. He junked the bill claiming that in its present form and substance, it “will not bring us any closer to peace (but) lead us to perdition,” filed a substitute bill that, according to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front did not adhere to the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the peace agreement between government and the MILF signed in March 2014. The BBL was supposed to be the CAB’s enabling act. The MILF said Marcos’ bill would render the future new autonomous region less autonomous than the ARMM it sought to replace, reducing it to a mere province.
In August 2015, civil society representatives held a march-rally in downtown Marawi, with a huge tarpaulin bearing the faces of Marcos Senior and Junior as “Berdugo ng Bangsamoro” (executioners of the Bangsamoro), the father for the Jabidah Massacre and 120,000 lives lost during the campaign against the Moro National Liberation Front while he was President, the son for the “BBL Massacre.” To symbolize their frustration, they put red paint on their palms to signify blood and stamped these on the tarpaulin.
On Thursday, a day before the LENIwanag Marawi rally, Marcos Jr. was in Marawi for a grand rally at the provincial capitol gym where Lanao del Sur Governor Mamintal Alonto Adiong, Jr. vowed to deliver a “landslide” victory for him and his running mate, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte.
“Umasa ka at ang ating bise president, sa darating na halalan, sigurado landslide ang ibibigay ng Lanao del Sur” [Be assured, you and our Vice President, in the coming elections, Lanao del Sur will surely give you a landslide (win)].
Thousands filled the 7-000 seater gym and the capitol grounds, brought in by mayors and barangay officials.
But a number of those in red and green shirts who filled the seats and bleachers in the Marcos rally on Thursday, were at the Robredo rally on Friday, clad in pink, majority of them standing for hours as there were only a few plastic chairs near the stage.
“Requirement po kasi kahapon. Ito po talaga ang kulay namin” (Yesterday was a requirement. This is our real color), a local government employee wearing a pink shirt, told MindaNews.
Robredo spoke of her love for Marawi and the province of Lanao del Sur, and how she has been visiting the area 10 times before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Among the candidates for President, she is confident of her record of accomplishments in this area. Her speech was interrupted several times by cheers and applause from the appreciative crowd.
In Filipino, she told them many candidates will come here to woo them, “they will tell you ‘I love Marawi and Lanao del Sur,’ they will promise to take care of you but the question that should be asked of them is, before the election, where were you? When you suffered especially during the Marawi siege, where were they?”
Robredo said she went to the evacuation centers during the siege and repeatedly came back to visit, check on the progress or inaugurate projects.
Despite the limited budget of the Office of the Vice President, Robredo said they found ways to help. They also managed to get the private sector to help not only during the Marawi siege but also during the pandemic.
Her office, she added, has provided about 100 million pesos worth of projects to assist in the recovery post-siege. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, her office downloaded 17 million pesos to the Amai Pakpak Medical Center so that Lanao residents who need help can receive help immediately.
Angat Buhay Village
The housing project — 72 units of transitory shelters in Area 7 — is a project of the OVP, funded by private sector donors “para yung mga nasa evacuation centers magkaroon na ng bahay dito sa loob ng Marawi at makabalik na” (so that those who are in the evacuation centers can return to Marawi).
As early as June 16, 2017, or Day 25 of the Marawi Siege, a team from the Office of Vice President Leni Robredo had joined Marawi Mayor Majul Gandamra at the site for temporary shelters for ‘bakwits’ or internally displaced persons in Marawi City. At that time, most of the evacuation centers were in Iligan City and neighboring areas in Lanao del Norte.
Marawi was declared “liberated” by President Rodrigo Duterte on October 17, 2017. The first 60 housing units in Angat Buhay Village were turned over to ‘bakwit’ families on July 17, 2018.
Robredo narrated that while the siege was ongoing, her office did not just bring food to the evacuation centers but also livelihood and set up community learning hubs, among others.
Post-siege, Robredo said their projects included school buildings. She explained why she spoke about these projects: “dahil ang ating tema: “gobyernong tapat, angat-buhay lahat” (because our theme is a better life for all under an honest government).
“Yun ang pinakapolicy natin. Kahit konti ang pera ng gobyerno, pag matapat ang pamamahala, maraming tulong ang mabibigay sa ating mga mamamayan” (That is our policy. Even if resources are limited, if government is honest, citizens can receive more help).
Marawi rehabilitation, compensation
If elected President, Robredo promised to fast-track the rehabilitation of Marawi.
“Siguraduhin ko napapabilis yung rehabilitation para makabalik na kayo sa mga bahay ninyo” (I assure you rehabilitation will be fast-tracked so you can return home).
Robredo also said she is praying that the Marawi Compensation Bill, already passed by both houses of Congress and awaiting the signature of President Rodrigo Duterte, will be signed soon.
The enrolled bill was transmitted to the Office of the President on March 15.
“Ang aking po pangako sa inyo sisiguraduhin natin na pag ako po’y maging pangulo na mabigyan agad ng pondo itong compensation bill kasi alam ko napakarami sa inyo na naghihintay n anito di ba? Marami nang naghihintay dahil ang dami niyong tiniis nyo ng ilang taon pagkatapos ng Marawi Siege hindi pa tayo nakakabalik sa normal dahil marami pa tayong mga kababayan na nasa evacuation centers pa hanggang ngayon” (I assure you that if I will be elected President, the compensation bill will be funded immediately because I know many of you are waiting for this, right? You’ve suffered for so long since the Marawi Siege and many of you are waiting for this as there are still many who are still living in evacuation centers until now).
According to the bill, Marawi residents displaced by the siege in 2017 will receive tax-free monetary compensation for loss of properties and loss of lives half a decade ago. But it will not be immediate as funding has yet to be allocated in the national budget for 2023.
Robredo said proof of her love for Maawi is “lagi kaming andito” (we are always here) and “parang pangalawang bahay ko na ang Marawi” (it feels like Marawi is my second home).
In his March 31 rally in Marawi, Marcos said nothing about Marawi rehabilitation or the compensation bill, and did not greet the audience on the coming Ramadan.
Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, a presidential candidate who earned the respect of Muslims for, among others, constructing a cemetery for them in Manila, had a video message posted on March 30, greeting Muslims “Ramadan Mubarak.”
“Hi sa ating mga kapatid and mga kabababayang Muslims. Ako ay bumabati sa inyo ng Ramadan Mubarak at pagpalain sana kayo ni Allah at matagumpay ang mga araw na darating sa buhay ninyo. Muli ito ang inyong lingkod, nakikiisa sa inyong lahat. Mag-iingat po kayo and may God continue to guide and bless you,” Moreno said.
Marcos, who removed his face mask before addressing the crowd, spoke for 20 minutes, repeating his previous speeches on unity but did not say how he intends to achieve that unity. Those who waited for him to say something about Marawi rehabilitation and compensation were disappointed. They were not mentioned at all.
“Kita naman na meron talagang recovery, may rehabilitation”
Before the rally, Marcos met with Lanao del Sur mayors and leaders at the Social Hall of the capitol. A video of his eight-and-a-half minute speech posted by Balabagan Mayor Edna Ogka-Benito, shows Marcos talking for a minute about Marawi rehabilitation.
He recalled the last time he came here was “to visit Marawi right after the uprising.”
He said that as they were flying over Marawi that day, “mabuti naman nakita ko na meron na ring progress kasi marami tayong naririnig, maraming nagre-reklamo na wala daw nangyayari at kita naman na meron talagang recovery, may rehabilitation (it was good to see there is progress because we have heard about complaints that nothing is happening but we could see there is really recovery, there is rehabilitation) and I think that the government’s policy, both the local and national government’s policy na build back better is going to be good one and that is the way that we would do it.”
“Marawi will become better, will come back better and more vital and important to not only the local economy but to local culture and all of the political and non-political issues here in the province,” he said.
Marcos did not visit ‘Ground Zero.’ MindaNews chanced upon senatorial candidates Teddy Baguilat, Alex Lacson and Sonny Matula in ‘Ground Zero’ after the LENIwanag Marawi rally. The senatorial bets wanted to see the situation on the ground.
In an ‘ambush’ interview at the inauguration of the BBM-Sara UniTeam headquarters in Valencia City, Bukidnon hours after the Marawi rally, Marcos was asked if Marawi rehabilitation will be a priority in his administration should he win. His reply: “Ginagawa na yun. (It’s being done). There’s no need … Tinatapos na ni Pangulong Duterte” (President Duterte is finishing that).
MindaNews checked with Housing Secretary Eduardo del Rosario, concurrent chair of the Task Force Bangson Marawi (TFBM) on the status of the rehabilitation projects but he has yet to send a reply.
In their 2021 accomplishment report, however, Del Rosario said he is “certain that we can finish at least 95% of all major infra projects by June 2022, and I can assure everyone that the few remaining projects will surely be completed because they are already funded and for implementation by the concerned agencies.”
Duterte is ending his term on June 30, 2022 with ‘Ground Zero,’ the 250-hectare, 24-barangay main battle area between government forces and the ISIS-inspired Maute Group, now referred to as “Most Affected Area,” still a ‘ghost town’ as residents have yet to return home, a number of them still waiting for the monetary compensation that would allow them to rebuild their homes.
The Marawi Siege Victims Compensation Act of 2022 is awaiting the signature of President Duterte to become law. It was transmitted to the Office of the President more than two weeks ago. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)