I entered Marawi City last Saturday. I was part of a small group that was visiting Saguiaran, the town next to Marawi City where thousands of refugees are living in DSWD tents or friends and relatives. The DepEd of ARMM< the Saguiaran LGU and Gawad Kalinga had set up kitchen facilities more than three months ago and are now feeding 4,000 school children refugees daily under the Kusina ng Kalinga program. And since Kusina ng Kalinga is preparing to begin feeding school children in the safer part of Marawi anytime now, we also wanted to see the situation there.
It was not my first time in Marawi City although I never was a regular visitor. But I remember passing through a number of times, and the Marawi I saw last Saturday truly saddened me. We were only in the secure section of the city as there was still fighting in a small area, and I would have been more devastated if we had been allowed entry in places where there was nothing but rubble. The President has just announced that Marawi City has been liberated. I must now assume that the often talked about the rehabilitation of Marawi City will soon begin.
Looking at the map of Marawi, especially the photographs of the destruction there that had been provided by both the military and the media, I was wondering how Marawi can be rebuilt. Marawi was not just a set of structures, Marawi was about people, culture, religion, and history. How do we rebuild the sum total? Do we even want to know that what was there culminated in its own destruction? What, then, can we do? What, then, should be done?
If we examine what destroyed Marawi, it was not the architecture of the buildings but the architecture of almost everything else. How can Marawi be rebuilt without returning the features and factors that ultimately destroyed it? The physicality of Marawi was badly damaged but can be more easily rebuilt, or replaced. But the dynamics of the people, the culture, the religion and the history – how can these be reconstructed without returning to the pattern that destroyed it?
The old Marawi is a living testimony to what man can do to a fellowman, how radicalism and extremism can overwhelm centuries of what was beautiful. Marawi was an Islamic city that became a battleground. When we rebuild, can we forget? Or, when we rebuild, will the seeds of the next destruction be planted just the same? I am sure that government and most Muslims will not want that to happen, but how can it be deliberately avoided in the planning and execution of the massive rehabilitation needed?
There are some who favor a new Marawi, meaning not just rebuilding from old but creating the new. This can mean opening new areas that were just raw land and develop them to be like suburban areas. Of the 200,000 residents in Marawi before the armed rebellion took place, how many really owned the places where they resided? How many were rightfully titled and how many were not? If a substantial number of the population did not own or have legal rights to the places where they lived, there is now a wonderful opportunity to grant rights to those who would live in areas that would still be developed under a grand masterplan.
If Marawi is to be an Islamic city, then perhaps it can be designed to be such according to the tenets and way of life befitting an Islamic city. For one, there should be no informal settlers or squatters. From the onset, no colonies of informal settlers should ever be permitted. How national government or the ARMM, under the present setup or under the proposed Basic Bangsamoro Law, will rebuild or create the new Marawi should be the example of how a brighter future can already be part of a masterplan. After all, the issue of ancestral domain is key to the peace agreement and the autonomy of Muslim Mindanao. Informal settlers should become a thing of the past.
The impact of the Marawi conflict was not only local but global, too. The world is universally concerned about terrorism, and Marawi became the most recent of attempts to install a dreaded Caliphate. When our nation begins the work of rebuild the old Marawi or build the new Marawi, the world will be more than watching – many other nations will be sympathetic. Their attention and sympathy should motivate us to come up with a vision of the Marawi of tomorrow that can inspire other Muslim towns to follow suit and draw support from abroad as well. The masterplan will be crucial.
No one wanted the violence in Marawi. That, though, is now water under the bridge because violence did happen. The future must learn from the past, and whether we build or rebuild, the lessons must be learned by government and the Filipino people, Muslims and Christians alike. We must not allow Marawi to be a symbol of violence just as the Japanese are not allowing Hiroshima to be that symbol as well despite the horrible destruction from a terrible war. We may want to see how Japan used the tragedy of Hiroshima to be a beautiful lesson of the present and the future.
Most of all, for me, I wish so intently for Marawi to be the fulcrum of a new fraternity among Filipinos, where an Islamic city can be a powerful host for peace and harmony. I hope that more and more Christians and Muslims can cross the divide of centuries, heal the undercurrent of anger that has defined our relationship, and both rebuild and build the solidarity of a people before the worst of politics and religion tore us apart. I hope, and I dream. Then, I work to do my share as I already see so many Filipinos doing the same.
Yes, it can be a new Marawi.