To go home to Marawi
With Marawi pronounced liberated last Oct. 17 by the Commander in Chief, all thoughts turn to the rebuilding of the city, as well as to the bakwit who have lost well nigh everything yet are eager to start life afresh.
The military has since clarified that the conflict, running now to five months, was not yet over, and that sporadic fighting was continuing. “We are going to get them very soon. We’re making sure no hostages and fighters are left,” said Col. Romeo Brawner, deputy commander of Joint Task Force Ranao.
Citing Mr. Duterte’s largely symbolic declaration, Brawner added: “We cannot really say that [the area] is 100-percent cleared. Even when World War II ended and liberation was declared, fighting continued. That is also what’s happening here.”
The number of those rendered homeless by the fighting is staggering. According to the Department of Social Welfare and Development, 78,466 families or 359,680 people were forced to leave their homes and are staying in 68 government evacuation centers in the Lanao provinces. Imagine their misery.
Mr. Duterte’s declaration of liberation has raised hope among the bakwit that they could soon go home again (a wistful, close to impossible, thought even in happier circumstances).
Those whose families are mercifully intact want only to see their homes to complete their happiness — but some have been heartbroken by the reality. Like utility worker Procema Perez, who hoped that their home in Barangay Datu Saber had been spared: “Unlike the others, we did not lose any family member because of the war. But we lost our home… We have nothing to return to because our house was hit by bombs.”
Others continue to be bereaved, with 47 civilians reported killed.
Norma Saumay, 60, is still in search of her son. “I’m not happy Marawi was liberated. I’m [extremely sad] because my son is missing, and our house was destroyed by the military airstrikes.”
Observers cannot but be moved by the devastation of the Islamic City, and the amount of work and resources necessary to bring it back to life. Not only money but also political will and steely resolve are required; inner strength, too, on the part of the bakwit, whose tears constantly flow.
As much as P56 billion is needed to rebuild the once proud city, according to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. The President has signed Administrative Order No. 3, which formed Task Force Bangon Marawi and committed P20 billion to this cause. Other countries have pledged to help in the effort.
And this effort is nothing less than gargantuan, to belabor the obvious. The fact is that many parts of Marawi have been leveled, reduced to ruins by bullets and bombs. Bullet holes mark surviving structures. Homes that cradled whole clans have been razed to nothingness.
Renowned architect and urban planner Felino Palafox Jr., who has volunteered to help in the rebuilding effort, recommended that the ruins of Marawi be converted into a memorial, to remind the public how a city could fall to terrorism.
“I’ve been in postdisaster rehabilitation [programs] — big earthquakes, tsunamis and big floods — [and] Marawi is the worst [I have seen],” Palafox said. He said “Ground Zero should be preserved as a lesson for future generations.”
Then there is the deeper reconstruction needed. Wrote Ambassador Macabangkit Lanto in a commentary: “There is unanimity in the idea that the liberation of Marawi will not put out the flame of faith-based extremism in Mindanao. In fact, there is a well-grounded fear that the war has engendered another breed of radicals who will be more ferocious and unforgiving after seeing and feeling the agony and pillage of their place. This is the challenge that the government faces now.”
But life goes on, such as it has become. At an evacuation center Tarhata Mustari had delivered a child whom she named “Martial Law,” but the baby eventually contracted pneumonia and died.
Yet Mustari looks forward to continuing her interrupted life back in Marawi.
“Thank you, Mr. President, for your promise to help us rebuild our home,” she said. “Thank you for your help while we are still in the evacuation center. I also thank our military for liberating Marawi from the Islamic State. If our local officials would allow us, then we will choose to go back to Marawi. There’s no place like home.”
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