‘Justice, not just this!’
These are the words on one placard displayed during a mini-rally that culminated a three-day commemoration of the fourth year of the tragic Marawi siege. The mass gathering of around 500 people — mostly representatives of the internally displaced, as well as leaders and staff of civil society organizations (CSOs) based in Marawi City and cities like Iligan, Cagayan de Oro and Davao — culminated the commemoration of that bloody siege.
The activity was held within the periphery of what is now known as the most affected area (MAA). The MAA used to be the hub of commercial, educational, and religious activities in Marawi City. It spans 24 barangays, covering an area of more than 250 hectares.
Now the MAA is a swath of flattened land, thanks to a rather dubious initiative of the Marawi City government to collect the mostly iron debris of the residences and commercial establishments that were severely destroyed from relentless daily bombing over five months from May 23 to Oct. 17, 2017. The initiative was questionable—it was done without consulting the owners of the houses and commercial establishments from where the piles of metal debris were collected. Many CSO leaders think it is a devious way to further deprive the displaced with their rightful claim to whatever monetary benefits they can get from the metal remains of their former houses and stores. The way this initiative was handled has intensified the resentment and disillusionment of the displaced Meranaws who are still crying for “justice, and not just this.” The “not just this” part of the slogan refers to the inaccurate claims of the leadership of the Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM). Prior to the fourth anniversary of the siege, the TFBM has claimed that it has accomplished 65 percent of its mandated rehabilitation of the city.
Several CSO leaders, among them the executive director of Kalimudan sa Ranao Foundation, Inc., Amenodin “Ding” Cali, scoffed at this claim. “It is true they have started to rehabilitate some roads, but these are not what the displaced community considers their priority,” he disclosed in my interview with him last Saturday evening. He added that at least three mosques are being repaired, but he doubts whether these repairs can be assessed at 65 percent of the work. He admitted that there is a building referred to as a center for “living traditions” that sits near the MAA. But he asks why this was a priority over the provision of livelihood and daily basic needs of the more than 300,000 individuals who have been displaced and deprived of their former livelihoods. To this day, the displaced are still enduring the limited facilities and overall difficult life in the transitional centers in Sagonsongan, located outside the MAA.
CSO leaders also decried the proposed military camp near the MAA, as articulated by one prominent Meranaw leader, Sultan of Marawi Abdul Hamidullah Atar, who advocated strongly against this decision. “The solution to violent extremism is not militarization or oppression but the provision of livelihood and of the formation of alliances…of looking at the roots of our faith…” This was the gist of Sultan Atar’s speech during the culminating activity of the Marawi memorialization that brought together several CSOs, among them the Davao-based Initiatives for International Dialogue, Kalimudan, and a long list of CSOs and human rights organizations in Mindanao. These groups have decided to form a loose coalition called the Marawi Advocacy for Accompaniment (also using the acronym MAA).
Four years have passed since the siege, the single incident that turned the world of many Meranaw upside down. Many of them still consider being at war with this government that continues to ignore their cries for justice, for truth and accountability of the state. This is a war that will linger on, with the dominant war culture hardwired into the mindsets of the national leadership, especially of the President. This is a president who, in his words, actions, and behavior, has promoted wars among the poor and marginalized of his own country, while being subservient to bigger and stronger warmongers like China.
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