A group of Muslim leaders from the war-torn city of Marawi
in the southern Philippines have appealed to Filipinos to stop posting disinformation on social media that might spark discord. Social media posts in recent weeks claimed that a Catholic cathedral would be the first structure to be rebuilt in the Muslim city reduced to rubble after a five-month conflict last year. Samira Gutoc-Tomawis, a Muslim civil rights activist in Marawi, said Filipinos should focus on efforts to bridge unity instead of creating tension between Muslims and Christians. "Let us not divide ourselves," said Gutoc-Tomawis, a former member of parliament in the autonomous Muslim region in Mindanao, at a recent forum in Manila. Bishop Edwin de la Pena of Marawi
has repeatedly said rebuilding the Catholic cathedral is not his priority but the recovery and rehabilitation of communities is. He said one of his priorities is to improve interfaith relations and to bring healing to people still traumatized by the violence. Gutoc-Tomawis said there are many stories that can be shared, of Muslims taking care of Christians whose lives were in danger during the attack by Islamic State gunmen. The Muslim leader also cited the Catholic Church's program
to help in peace-building efforts in Muslim communities. "We thank the church for not abandoning us even during recent storms that hit Mindanao," said Gutoc-Tomawis. She said church groups are often the first to help Muslim communities in Mindanao. Abdul Hamidullah Atar, a sultan from Marawi, also welcomed efforts by Catholics in helping rebuild the predominantly Muslim city. He said more than rebuilding physical structures, "relationship-building" is important in the rehabilitation process. "We all need to uphold human dignity, and the way that we can contribute in peace-building is to avoid fake news to reduce hatred, biases, and discrimination," said the Muslim leader. Rebuilding yet to start
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The rebuilding of Marawi is yet to start four months after its liberation from Islamic State-inspired gunmen. Sultan Atar complained that the government seems to prioritize the construction of a military camp instead of rebuilding homes for civilians. About 350,000 Marawi residents remain in temporary shelters after five-months of fighting levelled their homes to the ground. "The government is prolonging the agony of victims hardest hit by the war by not allowing them to enter and not immediately rehabilitating the main affected area," Atar told ucanews.com in an interview. He said the building of a military camp is a "misplaced priority." Drieza Lininding, chairman of the Marawi-based Moro Consensus Group, said people are "growing impatient" over the government's seeming lack of a plan in Marawi. Retired general Eduardo del Rosario, head of the government's task force to rebuild Marawi, said the rehabilitation of the city is expected to begin in April. The city's business district, which covers 250 hectares, was the main battle area during the fighting. According to government estimates, at least US$1.1 billion is needed to rebuild Marawi. The siege, which began on May 23 and ended in October last year killed more than a thousand people, mostly terrorist fighters and displaced close to 400,000 individuals.