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Marawi siege leaves lifelong scars

COTABATO (UCAN): The deadly five-month conflict in the southern Philippine city of Marawi, Mindanao, in 2017 not only left the city destroyed, but also scarred the survivors, leaving them with nightmares that will likely haunt them for the rest of their lives.
The scenic lakeside city was jolted by gunfire on 23 May 2017 when Islamic State-inspired gunmen attacked, resulting in an exodus of about 400,000 people from their homes.
The following months became a nightmare for government and private aid agencies which struggled to address the needs of the predominantly Muslim population.
After the fighting, the Philippine government reported that about 1,100 people had been killed. Most were terrorist gunmen who launched the attack to establish an Islamic state in the city. The government also announced that it would cost about US$1 billion ($7.81 billion) to rehabilitate the city.
Jamil Ampaso, a father of 12, condemned the attack but also expressed his dismay over the devastation brought about by military airstrikes on his hometown.
“The war did not only disrupt the schooling of our children, it also destroyed our livelihoods,” Ampaso said. “I don’t know how we can start again,” he said.
Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, had placed the entire southern region of Mindanao under martial law and the country’s congress voted on December 13 to extend it until the end of 2018.
Rebuilding still to start
More than two months since the end of the fighting, Marawi’s main battle area—which straddles 14 of the city’s almost 100 villages—remains largely off limits to civilians.
“Many of those who returned left again after seeing their houses destroyed and looted,” a local lawyer, Aminoden Macalandap, explained.
He said that many either went back to temporary shelters provided by the government or aid agencies outside the city, or went to live with relatives in other parts of Mindanao.
The head of the provincial chapter of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, said that basic services have yet to be restored while markets are still empty.
Reconstruction work has barely begun. A 17-hectare transitional resettlement site remained closed due to ongoing construction work.
Eduardo del Rosario, head of the task force organised to help rebuild the city, said that 1,100 transitional shelters would be ready for occupation this month.
Reconstruction of the city will only start in the second quarter of 2018.
Del Rosario said that various agencies are still assessing the situation and recommendations from different groups are still to be looked at.
Macalandap complained that there has been “no clear citizen’s consultation so far” in the planning stage.
“Those affected should be given major roles in the rehabilitation in deference to the cultural and religious sensitivities of the Maranao,” he explained. The Maranao are the predominant ethnic group in the city.  
Macalandap warned that the thorny issue of land ownership should be addressed following the discovery that portions of Marawi are part of a military reservation.
The lawyer also noted the need for transparency, especially concerning the millions of dollars that have been donated for the recovery and rehabilitation of the city.
Church response
Catholics around Marawi have responded to the needs of their neighbours by organising what they called Duyog Marawi (Together, Marawi) to help in the healing process for those most affected by the fighting (Sunday Examiner, 1 October 2017).
Bishop Edwin dela Peña, from Marawi, said that about 100 Muslims and Christians have already volunteered to work for the programme in partnership with the missionaries from the Redemptorist congregation.
The bishop said that Duyog Marawi also involves Muslim religious leaders and is anchored on the Church’s advocacy to promote interreligious harmony “in celebration of life and faith.”
Dioceses from across the country and individuals have already started sending donations for the implementation of the programme, the bishop said.
Bishop Dela Peña said the programme aims to ensure that people’s faith and culture are “paid attention to and factored into the rebuilding process of Marawi and people’s rights are protected.”
Jamalic Umpar, a 24-year-old Maranao whose family fled the city, said he volunteered to work in the programme “to foster unity and camaraderie between Muslims and Christians.”
Despite the scars left by the conflict, survivors are hopeful that the tragedy will bring something new to their lives.
Father Teresito Soganub, who was taken hostage by the gunmen on the first day of the attack, said the siege would haunt him for the rest of his life.
“I was angry with God for putting me in such a horrible situation,” he said, adding, “However, my faith in the Lord did not waiver. In fact it even became deeper.” 
He said his 116-day ordeal deepened his faith. “I prayed more feverishly than I used to do,” he said.
Bishop Dela Peña said that Catholics in the predominantly Muslim city “are here to support and accompany (our neighbours) all the way.”
“We are conscious that the mission of rebuilding the city belongs to the people of Marawi,” the bishop said.

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