Rebuilding Marawi: Too early for congratulations
The Philippine government recently marked the third year since Marawi City was retaken from armed men allied with the Islamic State (IS) who seized it on May 23, 2017.
On Oct. 17, 2017, President Duterte declared inside an Army camp that the city was “liberated from terrorist influence,” rousing to cheers a crowd of soldiers.
To indicate that the jubilation was premature, gunfire was still heard from the main battle area several kilometers away, as a remaining band of gunmen took a final stand amid the death of their top leaders a day earlier.
President Duterte’s declaration in 2017 came with a pledge to immediately jumpstart efforts to rebuild the ravaged city. Three years on, it is still too early for congratulations.
The five-month war had reduced to rubble the city’s business district—the Dansalan of old—which was the center of Maranao life for centuries. The desolate landscape now is a grim reminder of how the Maranao were excluded from the decisions that have a lasting impact on their community.
It can be recalled that during the third week of the siege, some 50 sultans and datus from Lanao provinces met and asked President Duterte to give them a hand in convincing the IS elements to spare the city from destruction in the hope that they could return to their beloved city.
The 2017 siege did not happen in a vacuum, nor was it a capricious thought by leaders of an emerging IS wilayat (province) in Southeast Asia.
Social, political, and economic deprivation in Lanao del Sur province allowed the militants to first take root in Marawi’s fringes. Under such conditions, many Maranao youth were reportedly lured into offering their lives for radical change for a reward in the afterlife. But this is rooted in the broader context of historical injustice, discrimination, and marginalization of the Bangsamoro that have festered since colonial times and perpetrated by successive national governments.
IS elements likewise exploited resentments over snags in creating a new autonomy setup granting greater powers to the Bangsamoro people to govern their affairs. Civil society groups have earlier warned of violent stirrings with the nonpassage of the new autonomy law in 2015.
Successful efforts dealing with violent radicalization were founded on giving due regard to the value of human life and liberty. Here, government and civil society have a wide space for collaboration in weaning affected populations away from violence.
With the infusion of public funds, the government’s rebuilding roadmap seems to have finally taken off. But a proposed law to provide compensation to affected families still hangs in the balance. As of September this year, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees counted 25,367 families or 126,835 individuals still displaced due to the Marawi siege.
Amid delays in the government’s rehabilitation of Marawi, and despite being seen as possible suspects to IS radicalization, the Maranao have demonstrated that they are not simply “vulnerable sectors” and that they can be positive partners in building resilience in their communities. Their initiatives include community and youth-led media in Lanao; partnerships between civil society, religious and traditional leaders, and madrasas on peace education; and advocacy on transitional justice and reconciliation.
As the Maranao chart a new future for Marawi, the government must help them ensure there would never be a similar tragedy again. Here, a holistic and community-driven framework for addressing the roots of conflict is imperative.
On Oct. 23, 2017, Marawi was indeed freed of IS fighters, but the conditions that spawn feelings of marginalization and disempowerment that drive violent conflict persist. Only by placing communities at the helm of durable solutions can terrorism be nipped in the bud and lasting peace be realized.
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Gus Miclat is the executive director of the Initiatives for International Dialogue, and regional representative of the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict.
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