MANILA and COTABATO (UCAN): A group of Muslim leaders from the war-torn city of Marawi in Mindanao, the Philippines, have appealed to Filipinos to stop posting disinformation on social media that might spark discord.
Social media posts in recent weeks have claimed that Marawi’s Catholic cathedral would be the first structure to be rebuilt in the city which was reduced to rubble after a five-month conflict last year.
Bishop Edwin de la Peña has repeatedly said the recovery and rehabilitation of communities has priorty over rebuilding the cathedral.
He said one of his priorities is to improve interfaith relations and to bring healing to people still traumatised by the violence.
Samira Gutoc-Tomawis, a Muslim civil rights advocate in Marawi, said the focus should be on efforts to build unity instead of creating tension between Muslims and Christians.
“Let us not divide ourselves,” Gutoc-Tomawis, a former member of parliament in the autonomous Muslim region in Mindanao, said at a recent forum in Manila.
She pointed out that there are many stories that can be shared of Muslims sheltering Christians whose lives were in danger during the attack by Maute militants affiliated with the Islamic State.
Gutoc-Tomawis also cited the Catholic Church’s programme, Duyog Marawi (Together, Marawi), to help peace-building efforts in Muslim communities.
“We thank the Church for not abandoning us even during recent storms that hit Mindanao,” Gutoc-Tomawis said.
She noted that Church groups are often the first to help Muslim communities in Mindanao.
Abdul Hamidullah Atar, a sultan from Marawi, also welcomed efforts by Catholics in helping to rebuild the predominantly Muslim city.
He said more than rebuilding physical structures, relationship-building is important in the rehabilitation process.
“We all need to uphold human dignity and the way that we can contribute in peace-building is to avoid fake news to reduce hatred, biases, and discrimination,” the Muslim leader said.
However, four months four months after the end of the conflict, the rebuilding of Marawi is yet to start.
Atar complained that the government seems to prioritise the construction of a military camp over the rebuilding homes for civilians.
About 350,000 Marawi residents remain in temporary shelters after five-months of fighting levelled their homes to the ground.
“The government is prolonging the agony of victims hardest hit by the war by not allowing them to enter and not immediately rehabilitating the main affected area,” Atar said.
Drieza Lininding, chairperson of the Marawi-based Moro Consensus Group, said people are growing impatient over the government’s seeming lack of a plan.
Retired general Eduardo del Rosario, head of the government’s task force for rebuilding the city, said rehabilitation is expected to begin in April.
According to government estimates, at least US$1.1 billion ($8.6 billion) is needed to rebuild Marawi.
The siege, which began on 23 May 2017 and ended in October, killed more than a thousand people and displaced close to 400,000 individuals.
The city’s business district, which covers 250 hectares (2.5 sq km), was the scene of much of the fighting.