Duterte’s ‘Yolanda’: The gushing wound of Marawi
“Me, if I become president, if Allah gives his blessing, before I die since I am old, I will leave to you all a Mindanao that is governed in peace,” promised Rodrigo Duterte during his election campaign.
“Long live the Moro! Long live the Moro! Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar [God is Great]!,” he declared with undaunted conviction, presenting himself as the harbinger of a new era in Mindanao.
Billing himself as the first “Moro president,” Mr. Duterte berated his rivals as clueless and uncaring products of “Imperial Manila” who have little compassion for and commitment to Muslim Mindanao. “Who of the three [leading presidential] candidates,” he asked, “can speak about the problem of the Moro, the problem of the BBL [Bangsamoro Basic Law], the problem of poverty and hunger [in Muslim Mindanao]?”
His answer was, unsurprisingly, “None of them.” And that’s “[why] I am running for President and I will fix Mindanao.”
One could sense the sincerity of Mr. Duterte’s best intentions when it comes to Mindanao, especially toward our Moro brothers and sisters. Here is a man who seemingly understood the complexities, nuances and human tragedy of the strife in Mindanao far better than his rivals. After all, he spent much of his colorful and tortuous political career at the forefront of the island’s transformation throughout decades of conflict among competing identity groups, connivance among warlords and oligarchs, and cooperation among like-minded Mindanaoan visionaries.
Arguably, Mr. Duterte was the best choice for Mindanao in 2016. Three years on, however, his record is, at best, mixed. On one hand, he has valiantly delivered on his promise to get the Bangsamoro law through legislative hurdles and political roadblocks.
At the same time, however, his term has seen the destruction of Marawi, one of our most beautiful and cherished cities.
President Benigno Aquino III went down as one of the most popular democratic leaders in the world. Yet his legacy will forever be haunted by the horrors of “Yolanda,” and the real and perceived failures of his administration to institute proper mitigation and rehabilitation measures.
The Yolanda disaster was the upshot of climate change, as one of the century’s most powerful superstorms devastated large parts of central Philippines. The destruction of the country’s leading Islamic city was primarily man-made, however. And even more strikingly, it took place in Mr. Duterte’s own home island, and under his watch.
More than two years since the siege of Marawi by Muslim extremists, the heart of the city still lies in complete ruin. And grievance, resentment and despair are rapidly building up.
During my visit to the site earlier this month, I couldn’t help but imagine the unspeakable horror that transpired among the long line of shattered homes, which once lovingly hosted soulful laughter and intimate moments of affection among the now-displaced residents.
Until today, we don’t even know how a bunch of ragtag Islamic State-affiliated fighters managed to place such a large city under a months-long siege. Nor do we have a complete picture of why the conflict dragged on for so long.
Marawi civil society leaders repeatedly claimed there was a window for negotiations to end the conflict early on. One local leader even claimed, “we were made a sacrificial lamb,” as they watched, with grief and rage, the most advanced weaponry unleashed on their most iconic neighborhoods.
What many residents are demanding is a proper, impartial and thorough Senate investigation into the genesis and outcome of the Marawi siege. Why has the Senate investigated so many issues in the past three years, including extrajudicial killings, but not the devastation of Marawi?
Others lamented how mainstream discourse wrongfully paints them as accomplices rather than the ultimate victims of an unmitigated catastrophe. Their greatest pain, however, is the pace, process and trajectory of rehabilitation efforts. Community leaders in refugee camps still wonder if they can ever return to and rebuild their old homes. Others, like academic and youth leader Dr. Tirmizy Abdullah have been horrified by the exclusionary process and narrow vision of the Marawi reconstruction blueprint, which purportedly places shiny white elephants above the real needs of ordinary people and, above all, the requirements of transitional justice.
Yet, many still have hope that President Duterte will redress such anomalies in his remaining years in office — as he should, lest Marawi becomes his unerasable Yolanda.
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