‘Bakwit’ forever? (1)
Davao City—Over the weekend, I was in this prime city of southern Mindanao to help facilitate a workshop with civil society leaders and some members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority on transitional justice and dealing with the past. As a member of the voluntary group called the Independent Working Group on Transitional Justice and Dealing with the Past, I need to do this as part of my self-imposed responsibilities, among others.
Several participants were civil society representatives from Marawi and the province of Lanao del Sur, the homeland of the proud and enterprising Maranaw, the people of the lake (Lake Lanao, at the heart of Marawi). I have worked with this bunch of young, feisty Maranaw civil society leaders in other engagements, especially in our common advocacy toward forging durable peace and social justice in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region. Year after year, we face challenges that make us realize this is an interminable and thankless mission. But we go ahead in this painstaking journey anyway, even with declining numbers from our ranks as some of our colleagues get enticed to assume more comfortable and definitely better-paying jobs in either the local or regional government.
Among the participants in the workshop were three women representing the Reclaiming Marawi Movement. Leaders among the internally displaced persons (IDPs) or “bakwit” organized this group to launch an incessant campaign to “reclaim our lives, identity as people of the lake, and our human rights to return to where our houses used to be.” The three women representatives of the movement claimed they have always been sidelined; and that the Task Force Bangon Marawi created during the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte has not made them rise from the ashes of the five-month Marawi siege. They even remarked, rather sarcastically, that the name of the task force “bangon” (to rise) is misleading—it has not allowed the bakwit to rise on their own feet after five years of waiting in the transitional shelters and in the homes of their relatives in other parts of Lanao del Sur and in other provinces far from Marawi. They also felt that both their local government (city of Marawi) and the national government have made them become dependent on aid and other forms of assistance provided by an array of international donors and of course, from the national government. For them, this was a serious affront to their identity as proud people of the lake.
A few months after the so-called “liberation” of Marawi, some of my colleagues conducted several listening process sessions with women survivors there. In one session, one woman participant tearfully shared: “Never in my life did I dream of this. Our ancestors never did, as well. We have lost so much. I spent years building my home. Did we ask them to bomb us so we can line up for relief?” (Shared with UN Women, 2018)
For five years, the IDPs or bakwit of Marawi have waited for the government to allow them to return to the most affected areas of the tragic Marawi siege. But this has not been made possible.
In between our workshop sessions, I listened to the stories of these women and three male civil society leaders from Marawi. They shared that there is a looming possibility the IDPs in Sagonsongan and other barangays where transitional shelters have been built will be evicted from their temporary residences. The owners of the lands signed a five-year lease agreement for the Marawi LGU to use their lands for the transitional shelters of the IDPs. The lease will expire next month. The Marawi LGU promised to negotiate for an extension on behalf of the IDPs, but many of the land owners have balked at this possibility; they expressed strongly that they need their lands for their own use. Thus, there is a possibility that the bakwit staying there will become displaced again.
One of the women in the movement, with tears in her eyes, said to me: “No, ma’am, we don’t want to become displaced again! Maging bakwit forever ba kami?“ (Will we become displaced forever?)
(To be continued)
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