Marawi’s ersatz liberation
Last Saturday, Oct. 17, was the third anniversary of the so-called “liberation” of Marawi from the grip of extremist violence courtesy of the infamous Maute group. On that day three years ago, President Duterte declared victory over the group that fiercely fought “his soldiers” (the Armed Forces of the Philippines) and elements of the Philippine National Police. But that so-called liberation was never a source of jubilation for the thousands of survivors, especially those whose families were among the fatalities in the Marawi war.
The war in Marawi started with Mr. Duterte calling on the Maute to “go ahead, do it (burn Marawi)” in a speech he delivered at the Wallace Business Forum on Dec. 16, 2016. He rationalized the military offensive against the Mautes saying it was “stupidity” to stop the operation. “We need to do a lot of constructions in this country. There are a lot of materials there and we will be glad to rebuild and rehabilitate every structure that you destroy. As long [as] it’s confined in the areas of Lanao, I don’t really care,” he had said to the group of businessmen present.
Such statements are revealing of the complicity of the Duterte administration in engendering the Marawi war. Yet, no investigation has been conducted to determine the dirty entanglements of Mr. Duterte, his trusted officials, and their alleged ties with shady groups engaged in illicit economies in the Lanao provinces, especially in Marawi.
A mindanews.com report in September 2017 noted that former Marawi mayor, Omar Solitario Ali — who is a half-brother of another former mayor, Pre Salic — had been in close contact with Jesus Dureza, the presidential adviser on the peace process at that time. The report detailed how Dureza engaged Solitario to help the Duterte administration “negotiate” with the Maute group, whose key members were related to both Ali and Pre Salic by affinity.
Both former mayors were included in the list of Mr. Duterte’s high-profile drug personalities, meaning local government officials involved in the illegal drug trade. Why did the government engage the services of a former local chief executive who had alleged ties to both extremist groups and the illicit drug trade?
Several Meranaw CSO leaders have mounted a movement to “boycott” the commemoration of the “liberation” of Marawi. As far as they are concerned, “there is nothing to commemorate, only pains and our sufferings that continue to this day.”
Drieza Lininding, the lead convener of the Moro Consensus Group, in his social media page, urged people to “boycott” the so-called Marawi Rise Plan and Master Development Plan, which he described as “incoherent and inappropriate for a post-conflict reconstruction and rehabilitation because it focuses more on public infrastructure and other government establishments (buildings) that they did not have before the siege.” He added: “We don’t feel liberated at all, since we are not yet allowed to go back to the locations of our former homes, for the last three years…”
Liberation from the clutches of any group — whether oppressors or terrorists — brings about exultation among those who have been “liberated.” But for the Meranaw families from Marawi’s most affected areas, it was just a respite, especially for the fighters on both sides. In truth, it was the beginning of a new kind of battle for the Meranaw: the one to reclaim their lost dignity as a proud people of the lake.
And judging from three years of inaction on the full rehabilitation of the homes of the survivors, the government’s commemoration of the third anniversary of Marawi’s liberation is nothing but a sham, a fake one.
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