MARAWI: LIBERATION THAT TURNED OUT TO BE AN OCCUPATION

“October 17, 2017 was supposed to be liberation but it turned out to be liberation for another occupation. Occupation in the sense that people are continuously demanding for safe and dignified return. Occupation in the sense that rehabilitation’s framework is not IDP-centered. Occupation in the sense that rehab start is continuously being postponed. Occupation in the sense that military is occupying the ground zero and there is ongoing construction of a military garrison.” ~ Dr. Tirmizy Abdullah, Professor of History, Mindanao State University, Marawi City.

The P16B reconstruction of Marawi and the rehabilitation of the internally displaced persons are so far from reality according to a recent news report. June 2018 was the original start with the Chinese-led Bangon Marawi Consortium. It did not materialize. The five Chinese and four Filipino companies composing the consortium were “disqualified due to failure to comply with the financial, technical and legal requirements,” according to the news report. July was set for the next target date, then was moved to August as the authorities still tried to negotiate with some Chinese corporations. September was the next promised groundbreaking but was moved again to 17 October to coincide with the celebration of the “Liberation of Marawi.”

There was no celebration. 


Hundreds of displaced residents tried to march into the city on Tuesday, the eve of the commemoration of the first anniversary of its liberation from the terrorists.

Daily Inquirer, 19 October 2018

Marawi residents marched in protest, shouting, “We will go home! Marawi is ours!”

We are miles away from liberation.

Marawi’s people are far from being free. This sentiment is being amplified by Samira Gutoc, a Meranaw woman leader who has been working as a journalist, environmentalist, activist, and community organizer for more than 17 years.

“It has been a year since the government announced the liberation’ of Marawi from ‘terrorist forces,’ and it has been a year since the Meranaw people were displaced from their homes,” she wrote in a text message. She continues: “A year has passed since the administration announced the liberation of Marawi City, but the people of Marawi — OUR PEOPLE — are yet to claim the freedom they lost a year ago. We are not yet free from the forces of terror, because military force alone cannot free our people. This government needs to listen, and we say we are miles away from liberation.”

A declaration of determination by the internally displaced persons from Marawi: “We will go home. Marawi is ours.”

This government needs to listen, and we say we are miles away from liberation.

Samira laments the fact that her people — the enterprising Meranaw — are finding it hard to find livelihood due to their continuing displacement. Because of militarization, they live in fear and are silenced. In many of her speeches, she makes it clear that “liberation means nothing if rights are ignored, and our voices are silenced.”

She calls on the government to really listen to Marawi residents and address the people’s concerns, “instead of merely holding consultation after consultation without any promise of action.”

Liberation means nothing if rights are ignored, and our voices are silenced.

“In rebuilding Marawi City,” she said, “respect for the rights of our people must be at the heart of every effort. We will not be erased. Government efforts mean nothing if these efforts compromise the dignity of our people, and our dignity will not be taken away from us. Our city will not be taken away from us.”

“What happened, Marawi?” This was the major question of the displaced people of Marawi who have been living in tents for more than a year. The government prevents them to return to their homes and properties. 

Government efforts mean nothing if these efforts compromise the dignity of our people, and our dignity will not be taken away from us.

Many non-Moros, mostly Christians outside Marawi or outside Mindanao, may think these are not their concern. Samira says otherwise: “This is not just a Marawi issue; this is every Filipino’s issue. What happened to Marawi will forever change the history of our country. Let us continue to fight for what is right. Let us continue to fight for our rights, not just for Marawi, but for every citizen of this country and for our children.”

Let us go home!

The open letter below was sent to me by Adel Ditucalan, Meranaw woman leader whom I regard as my very own sister. My heart and mind resonate with her lamentation —

OPEN LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT

Mr. President, we are your people too.

Please, let us go home!

Not that we are not grateful for the tents provided us when we had no place to go, fleeing from the raging war. We are.

But, although tents are good to sit and lie down under, shade from the blistering sun or to watch the stars at night on the beach by the sea or in campsites, even in the backyards or front yards of our homes, tents were never meant to be lived in for years and years to come.

Once, we were the people of the lake. Now we became the people of the tents.

We were glad and grateful that we were housed in tents when we fled our homes in the city. Temporary shelters to rest our weary mind and souls, we thought. But it has been almost a year and a half since then. A long, long one and a half years.

Once, we were the people of the lake. Now we became the people of the tents. Made to wait indefinitely. The terrible question at the backs of our mind, “Will we ever get back home?”

Adel Ditucalan speaks before a crowd protesting the prolonged displacement of Marawi War victims. The government and the military have prevented them from returning to their homes since the President declared the so-called “Liberation of Marawi” last 17 October 2017.

Babies were born here. Tent babies, we call them. Crawling on the makeshift wooden or bamboo floors. Learning how to walk on grounds that are muddy when it rains and swirling with dust when the sun shines.

Babies shouldn’t grow this way. Babies should grow in the comfort of their homes.

And, tents could never, would never be home.

We are told that we cannot go back yet because ground zero is waiting to be cleared. But no clearing has started. Glitches in the clearing contract awarding, they said.

Lack of qualified contractors with the proper tools, they said.

To the Task Force Bangon Marawi, the delay in the clearing may seem caution. But to us who live in tents, who have little to earn our keeps and living like beggars on dole outs, the delay seems neglect. A catalyst for breeding bitterness.

So, here we are. People of the lake turned people of the tents.

With shattered dreams and splintered lives.

Distressed hearts and desperate souls.

Scattered like lambs. Shepherdless!

Seemingly hopeless.

Visited, documented and gawked at by foreign and local assistance funding organizations and media. Our hapless, helpless conditions videoed and broadcasted. Reduced to nothing more than stirring images of the dismal consequences of a war we never wanted. Stirring images that fail to stir the bureaucratic hearts of those who can do something to hasten our going home to do something real with a keener sense of urgency. With more compassion.

Sometimes, we ask, “Why, Allah, why?”

Let us go home!

Let us rebuild our shattered houses.

Let us make whole our splintered lives. Rekindle our shattered hopes. Relieve our distressed hearts. Revive our desperate souls.

Let us go home so that we may become what we were and should be, people of the lake, no longer people of the tents anymore.

Let us go home so that the silent masjid may be silent no more.

Let us go home so that we may become what we were and should be, people of the lake, no longer people of the tents anymore.

Assalamu’alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh.

May the peace and mercy, and blessings of God be with you.

~”Marawi is Ours, Let Us Go Home” Movement

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