Beginning to rebuild
That “sturdier structures” and not a “tent city” are being planned for the families displaced by the conflict in Marawi indicates a clear intent to begin the work of picking up the pieces. About time, too: The fighting in the city has raged for more than two months, after all.
Late in July, thousands of evacuees raised their plight to President Duterte. “Mr. President, please, let us end the war now,” said Maranao youth leader Omeihaya Sharief, speaking on behalf of the displaced families.
In Iligan City, where most of the bakwit have been staying, a movement called “Dansalan Tano sa Kalilintad” (Let’s return to a peaceful Marawi) has risen; it is urging the government to end the conflict so the Maranao can begin to rebuild their shattered lives.
“As the war continues, so do the hardships of the evacuees,” Sharief said. She said lack of food was a constant problem “despite the official pronouncements of authorities,” leading to the sickliness of children.
At the evacuation centers, the bakwit have to endure “crowding, the heat during daytime and the cold at night from the [concrete] floor where they sleep,” she said. “They are also tired of eating canned sardines and cup noodles.”
When the conflict began to take longer than expected to resolve, the overflow of bakwit, particularly in tiny Iligan, needed to be addressed.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development announced that tents would be set up, one for each displaced family, to ensure their privacy. But the plan for a “tent city” would eventually be dropped in favor of semipermanent structures.
Such a structure will “also make them comfortable because it will be a house,” said Marawi Mayor Majul Gandamra. Tents, he said, will “always remind them that they are evacuees.”
The units are to be built in Barangay Sagonsongan, an 11-hectare relocation site in Marawi. An initial 5,000 families have been identified as beneficiaries.
The Army’s 54th Engineering Brigade, the Department of Public Works and Highways in Northern Mindanao, and the Marawi City Engineers Office have started building model units, according to Capt. Jo-ann Petinglay, spokesperson for Joint Task Force Marawi.
The units are estimated to take eight days to finish, with each one capable of housing three families. To provide the evacuees a source of income, many among them have been chosen to work on the units.
Army engineers are now working onsite. Said Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, Western Mindanao Command chief: “Your soldiers will risk their lives not only to make sure that Marawi City would be free from terrorists, but also to speed up rehabilitation, so that shelters would be ready at the soonest possible time.”
The idea of soldiers building shelters for displaced families illustrates their civic function and presents them as men and women in the service of the people, and not as oppressors, as during Ferdinand Marcos’ martial rule.
The idea of soldiers as builders is an ancient one, proving that those who can wield a sword can just as easily wield a spade. The yearly war exercises between American and Filipino military forces, for example, included the construction of school buildings and service provisions in host towns.
It was the President himself who announced that the rebuilding of Marawi would begin as soon as the city is cleared of the extremists that laid siege to it. Before then he had signed Administrative Order No. 3, which formed the multiagency Task Force Bangon Marawi headed by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. The award-winning architect Felino Palafox Jr. has committed himself and his firm to helping out in the reconstruction effort. And a number of foreign governments have expressed intent to provide assistance.
These are mere words, of course. It is hoped that the rehabilitation effort will begin in earnest as each day brings another day of despair for the homeless Maranao. Said Sharief: “Our hearts broke seeing on television the daily destruction wrought to our beloved Marawi due to the continued fighting.”
But to shelter the homeless is one thing. To heal and comfort the grieving and desolate is quite another.
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