(SDN) — TWO years on and, mostly like still counting, over 100,000 Marawi siege “bakwits” (internally displaced persons) still can’t return to their “homes.”
In the first place, they have no homes to return to, though they want so earnestly to rebuild their places of abode.
Recall that on May 23, 2017, the siege of Marawi City, Lanao del Sur, broke out between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) complemented by the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the ISIS-allied Maute Group/Abu Sayyaf Group (MG/ASG). It was an internecine war pitting Filipinos against Filipinos.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) revealed on May 22 the continuing tragic fate of the M’ranaw residents (they are Filipinos, just like you and me, mind you) in an email to SDN — Science and Digital News.
Domes of the Grand Mosque, the iconic Islamic religious structure of Marawi City.
M’ranaws (meaning, People of the Lake), are a proud people. If they can have their way, they’ll most likely build their own homes if only they are allowed to get to their lots covered by Ground Zero (now dubbed Most Affected Area, MAA).
But they have to follow what the government is telling them, the Task Force Bangon Marawi (TBFM), particularly, the agency tasked to oversee and implement the rebuilding and rehabilitation of Ground Zero/MAA.
A total of 3,153 buildings were completely destroyed, while 2,145 suffered or heavy damage. On Ground Zero, destroyed and damaged buildings included houses, schools, with 22 of 69 total destroyed, as well as hospitals, business establishments and places of worship — a cathedral and over a dozen mosques.
Experts speak with a Marawi ‘bakwit’. In October 2018, the ICRC started a mental health and psycho-social support program for people with severe trauma from the Marawi conflict. To date, the ICRC has reached nearly 700 people with MHPSS activities. The program has also made a positive impact on the lives of 47 victims of violence undergoing individual MHPSS sessions.
Perhaps, the rebuilding may need to first attend to the IDP’s houses, or they will continue to wallow in self-pity as they continue to live in evacuation sites.
As a result, the ICRC noted, the “bakwits” are still feeling the scars wrought by the two-year-old conflict, which continues to haunt them.
Perhaps, not surprisingly, frustrations have set in with the “bakwits,” an observation made by Martin Thalmann, ICRC Delegation head in the Philippines.
“Despite the numerous aid efforts that have truly helped those in need over the two years, the people of Marawi have grown tired and frustrated. They want to stand on their own feet again and stop depending on assistance,” he said.
Their struggle is present whether they have been living with relatives or staying in evacuation centers or transition sites — difficult access to potable water, viable libvelihood opportunities, and permanent shelters as their biggest deprivation.
Thalmann noted that the authorities were trying to address complex issues so that the rehabilitation of the MAA could begin.
But the conflict has left more vulnerable groups, such as families of missing people and victims of violence, with “invisible” scars.
“The wounds that do not bleed are the wounds that become scars. And these are the most painful because they will always leave something to look at. Something that will always bring back memories of what happened. Nevertheless, it is still important because it is still a lesson,” recalled “Mel” (not his real name), a 34-year-old resident who was severely traumatized by the Marawi conflict.
Launched in October 2018, the ICRC’s mental health and psycho-social support (MHPSS) program has reached close to 700 people. Among them, 47 people who were severely traumatized in the Marawi conflict — including “Mel” — have reported feeling “relieved, comfortable, safe and understood” after undergoing individual MHPSS sessions.
“They need sustained support to recover mentally from the trauma caused by the conflict that has affected their overall well-being,” Thalmann said.
Talking about the ICRC’s next step, Thalmann said the organization would work on strengthening the capacity of the public health system in the area of psycho-social support to victims of violence.
The ICRC, with its partner the Philippine Red Cross (PRC), has been supporting people affected since the onset of the Marawi conflict. People who were injured during the fighting received ICRC support to cover the cost of their medical treatment. Those with physical disabilities as result of injuries were supported by ICRC to receive prosthesis and physiotherapy.
The organization continues to help the displaced people by restoring sources of income and improving access to water and sanitation in various sites. It has also been working with families whose loved ones went missing due to the conflict.
Continuing life of deprivation for Marawi ‘bakwits’.
“We have been filling the gaps in the recovery response in coordination with the authorities and other aid organizations. But we can only do so much. The authorities still have the primary responsibility of providing sustainable solutions to help the people of Marawi,” Thalmann said.
The ICRC is a neutral, impartial and independent organization whose exclusively humanitarian mission is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of armed conflict and other situations of violence and to provide them with assistance. It has an international mandate to promote knowledge for and compliance of international humanitarian law.
Meanwhile, religion-related buildings on Ground Zero had 25 mosques either destroyed or damaged in the conflict. The biggest of this Islamic structures was the Grand Mosque of Marawi City. It was heavily damaged and rendered no longer safe for use.
The Grand Mosque was a beloved icon of Marawi City, a destination for visiting dignitaries in the past.
Marawi has 96 barangays, of which 24 barangays with a total area of 250 hectares are on Ground Zero.
A 2015 government census placed the city’s population at 177,391.
Datu Omar Pangarungan, a lawyer and a diplomat, said the Grand Mosque is located at the heart of Marawi City.
The scion of the Pangarungan Clan had revealed that foreign governments and non-government organizations from the Arab and Muslim countries have communicated their readiness to provide funds and help rebuild the Grand Mosque while adhering to the government’s guidelines on foreign assistance. (SDN/ICRC)
Images: Except for Grand Mosque, all photographs are from ICRC.