A group of Filipino bishops visit the devastated Catholic cathedral of Marawi on April 14 before its scheduled demolition in June. (Photo courtesy of Duyog Marawi)
The Philippine government is to demolish the 84-year-old Catholic cathedral in Marawi to pave the way for the rebuilding of the war-torn southern city.
Terrorist gunmen desecrated and burned the church when they attacked the country's so-called Islamic capital in May last year, kicking off a five-month conflict.
Authorities said the cathedral and the bishop's residence are no longer structurally sound because of bomb explosions, air strikes, and exchanges of gunfire during the conflict.
Terrorist gunmen set the cathedral on fire on May 23 and took Father Teresito Suganob, the prelature's vicar, and several church workers and worshipers hostage.
They also stormed the bishop's residence and several other buildings.
The demolition of the structures and the clearance of debris was expected to start in June.
"We will rebuild the cathedral but only after [the Muslims] have rebuilt their city and their Masjids," said Bishop Edwin dela Pena of the Prelature of Marawi.
He said Catholic Church groups would focus efforts on "rebuilding communities."
Bishop Dela Pena said that a "simple church" would be built on the site of the cathedral to symbolize the church's mission of a "reconciling presence" in Marawi.
The prelate led several Catholic bishops on April 14 on a visit to the church, but the Philippine military did not allow them to celebrate Mass for security reasons.
Rey Barnido, executive director of "Duyog Marawi," said the bishops' visit "was both a symbol of solidarity [and] a symbolic blessing and prayer for peace."
Duyog Marawi, or One with Marawi, is a rehabilitation program introduced by the prelature and the Redemptorist missionaries that focuses on healing and peace-building efforts.
Displaced people oppose demolition
A group of displaced Marawi residents have voiced opposition to demolishing any buildings.
The group, Ranao Multi-Stakeholders Movement, decried what they described as the government's insensitivity to the culture and feelings of the indigenous Maranao people of Marawi.
Sultan Abdul Hamidula Atar, the group's spokesman said, Muslim people were offended by the proposal to flatten all structures, including the city's Grand Mosque.
At Easter, authorities allowed displaced residents to visit what was left of their homes for the first time.
But the people said the brief visit was an "insult" to the thousands of residents who continue to stay in temporary shelters around the city.
A group of women calling themselves the United Mothers of Marawi Inc. appealed to the government on April 14 to allow people to go back to their communities.
"Many of us are begging for places to stay. Many of us have been driven out from shelters without dignity," the group said in a statement.
They complained that they are made "to suffer for a crime that is not of our making [and] forced to pay for the inefficiency of those who are charged with the welfare of the people."
Eduardo del Rosario, head of a government agency tasked with rebuilding the city, assured that everything is being done to give people their land back.
He said residents would be allowed to build structures on their land, adding that an arbitration body will address the issue of multiple claimants of properties.
Marawi was liberated from Islamic State inspired gunmen in October.
An estimated 400,000 people, many still living in temporary shelters on the outskirts of Marawi, were affected by the conflict. More than 1,000 people were reported killed.
The government said at least a billion U.S. dollars is needed to rebuild Marawi and its surrounding areas.
Jigger Jerusalem contributed to this report from Cagayan de Oro City.