Rehabilitation work on ground zero in the battle for Marawi City has yet to begin one year after the siege began, but could start next month after clearing operations are completed, the city’s mayor said Wednesday.
In an interview with radio dzBB, Marawi City Mayor Majul Gandamra said the lives of his constituents were slowly returning to normal, except for 24 barangays that were at the center of the battle in which government troops fought to oust Maute group rebels.
There, troops were still clearing the area of explosives and materiel, Gandamra said.
Gandamra was at the rites to mark the first anniversary of the Marawi siege that began May 23, 2017, and that ended five months later, on Oct. 23, 2017.
He said he hopedd rehabilitation could begin in the main battle area by early June.
In Congress, Lanao del Sur Rep. Mauyag Papandayan Jr., chairman of the House committee on Muslim affairs, criticized Task Force Bangon Marawi for its “vague” rehabilitation plan.
Papandayan could not hide his ire when TFBM spokesman and Civil Defense Deputy Administrator Kristoffer James Purisima presented the rehabilitation plan before the House panel Wednesday.
While the plan sounds good, Papandayan said it was not clear as to where the new infrastructure within the so-called “‘most-affected area”—such as market, promenade, and cultural center—would be built.
The lawmaker particularly voiced concern over the possible displacement of local residents that the construction might cause.
“Now if you are in Marawi, there are no vacant spaces there for these infrastructure unless you take the land of the people whose homes were destroyed,” said Papandayan.
Purisima said the task force has discussed its plans with stakeholders and determined there would be minimal disruption to private property.
“If there is a need to expand certain roads, for example, then we would undertake a process for that. But this is done in consultation with the stakeholders,” he said.
Papandayan said widening roads is easy compared to finding actual spots for the planned market, promenade, and cultural center under the rehabilitation plan.
Leftist lawmakers, meanwhile, called for the lifting of martial law and reparations for the people of Marawi.
“Today [May 23] marks the first anniversary of the declaration of martial law in Mindanao and the Marawi siege. Within this one year, we have seen and received numerous accounts of people and communities in Mindanao being targeted for grave human rights violations,” ACT Party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio said.
ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. France Castro said schools are not free from harm in the declaration of martial law in Mindanao, saying that volunteer teachers in lumad schools, their students and the parents are alleged victims of harassment, threats, illegal arrests with trumped up charges and killings by the military.
Citing data from the Save Ours Schools Network, Castro said 56 lumad schools have already been forced to cease operations due to intense militarization in their area.
In the Palace, Special Assistant to the President Christopher Go said President Rodrigo Duterte would not be at rites to mark the first anniversary of the Marawi siege, and would rather attend the anniversary of the city’s liberation from extremists in October.
In May last year, Maute group militants attacked Camp Ranao and occupied several buildings in the city, including Marawi City Hall, Mindanao State University, hospital and the city jail. They also occupied the main street and set fire to Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Ninoy Aquino School and Dansalan College. They also took a priest and several churchgoers hostage.
Close to 1,000 people were killed during the five-month siege. By the military’s recent count, the conflict claimed a total of 982 lives—777 were terrorists, 158 were government soldiers, and 47 were civilians.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said more than 200,000 people were still suffering and displaced and in need of much stronger support a year after armed conflict broke out in Marawi City.
“Efforts to rehabilitate Marawi and assist its people must be stepped up to reduce the suffering of thousands of those who were displaced over the past year. The efforts are there, but these must match the growing needs of those who face prolonged displacement and are close to despair,” said Pascal Porchet, ICRC Philippines delegation chief.
The ICRC stated that with the response shifting from emergency phase towards early recovery, food donations have dwindled and livelihood opportunities are reaching only a few.
Majority of displaced families still depend on relatives or friends for support, while those in evacuation sites continue to struggle with poor living conditions in makeshift camps, increasing their risk of illness.
“It has been a year since the armed clashes began and we still don’t know what lies ahead. I’m starting to feel the weight of it, and there are times when I feel like giving up. But for the sake of my children, I strive to stay strong,” said Diane Sumangan, an evacuee in Saguiaran.
Sumangan is a resident of Bubonga Marawi, one of the 24 villages in the main area affected by the clashes that broke out in May last year
Porchet said the displaced families struggle to feed their families, buy medicines or resume their small businesses due to lack of livelihood opportunities or capital. He added uncertainty about the future has added to their worries.
Authorities estimate that 65,000 residents from the main area where structures were reduced to rubble will be unable to return home for the next two to three years. The transitional site in Sagonsongan, Marawi City, can only accommodate 6,000 of them.
“The ICRC remains committed to supporting those who fled the fighting, and to do more by addressing gaps in the overall early recovery response, in coordination with the authorities and other aid organizations,” Porchet said.
“But, it is primarily the authorities’ role to assist people affected by conflict. The pending issues concerning the transitional site such as lack of regular supply of water and absence of proper sewage collection and treatment should be resolved soon,” he said.
Particularly concerned about the pain of people whose loved ones went missing during the fighting, the ICRC and Philippine Red Cross are following up on the cases of more than 100 families with the aim of tracing the whereabouts of their missing kin.
“We are stepping up efforts to accompany and support these families. There is a need for a neutral and independent organization such as the Red Cross to work in this field. We encourage those with information about missing people in Marawi to approach the Red Cross,” said Adriana Uribe Villa, who leads the ICRC’s response in Marawi.