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Marawi a matter of justice

Don’t forget Marawi,” pleaded Yasmin Busran Lao, Muslim woman leader and founder of the Al-Mujadilah Development Foundation (AMDF) based in Marawi. Indeed, it’s been three years since the siege of the city and the declaration of “victory” over the Maute terrorists, but to this day the proud Islamic city is still in a shambles, majority of its residents still prevented from returning to their homes and moving on with their lives. Speaking at the “Usapang EveryWoman” weekly online forum of the feminist coalition EveryWoman, Busran-Lao asked everyone to “amplify our voices (since) we are all affected.”

By “we” she meant not just the Moro women and all those affected by the five-month siege, but also all women whose identity and social roles have been tested by violence and conflict, and now by the “silent” violence of the COVID-19 contagion and the measures used to address it.

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The online discussion titled “Balik Probinsya, Balik Marawi Muna,” hosted by Karen Tanada and also featuring Zahria “Linky” Muti-Mapandi, the present executive director of the AMDF, opened with a recounting of the beginnings of the siege in 2017. Linky and Yasmin then recalled the street battles and bombings over the next five months as well as the fraught exodus from Marawi to neighboring towns and cities like Iligan and Cagayan de Oro, and their search for shelter. All these resulted in the loss of the sense of safety and of safety nets like employment and health care, compounded by the lingering impact of the virtual lockdown on the city with no end in sight. Add to these measures to mitigate the COVID-19 contagion, and you have a “perfect storm” of people’s anger and anxiety, fear and rising frustration.

—————“Some 70 percent of Marawi’s population before the siege have not been able to return to their homes,” reported Linky. Those who’ve managed to stay put or return are housed in the least affected areas of the city or in relocation centers. Many others moved in with extended families or friends, largely “invisible” to authorities, said Yasmin, but just as in need of food and aid.

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To make things worse, added Linky, there are reports of drug traffickers operating within the communities of makeshift shelters, finding a thriving market among the dispossessed.

Convincing folk to observe physical distancing and subject themselves to quarantine is quite difficult, noted Linky. “Many of the folks don’t believe that COVID-19 is a serious disease,” she said, with many believing “it’s nothing but the common cold and flu.” Besides, it’s next to impossible finding enough space for social distancing within the tiny temporary shelters, many of which are one-room affairs shared by entire families.

—————As if the present situation in Marawi and among the refugees around the country wasn’t bad enough, the draconian measures adopted by authorities in charge of the rehabilitation efforts add to the people’s restlessness, pointed out Yasmin.

Though civil society groups are on paper supposed to be part of the multisectoral planning committees, added Yasmin, “we are not listened to.” In the few times authorities have allowed Marawi residents, especially those living in the city’s “Ground Zero,” to enter the city, they have found to their dismay that, aside from houses reduced to rubble, “even those that were undamaged were badly looted.”

There had also been an agreement between the residents and authorities that before houses were to be demolished, homeowners would be informed. “But in between visits, we have found our homes have disappeared.” This also makes it difficult for residents, added Linky, to locate their property “since landmarks have disappeared, making it very difficult to find the locations of our homes.”

Yasmin also pointed out that accounting for the billions allocated for the rehabilitation of Marawi, including the huge amounts that poured in from foreign governments and institutions, has been spotty and far from transparent. “There is no clear accounting,” she complained.

“Speed up the rehabilitation of Marawi,” Yasmin demanded, adding that if the national government, through the Task Force Bangon Marawi, is unable or unwilling to facilitate efforts to rebuild the city, “then they could leave it under the charge of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM),” which after all has jurisdiction over Marawi.

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The move to bring Marawi back to life, said Tanada, is nothing less than a matter of justice.

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TAGS: Al-Mujadilah Development Foundation (, Balik Probinsya, COVID-19, Marawi
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