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The challenge of rebuilding lives in Marawi

Spiritual recovery is needed to bring back normalcy in the city and is as valuable as infrastructure
The challenge of rebuilding lives in Marawi

The city of Marawi in the Philippines, as seen from this aerial photograph on March 28., remains to be rehabilitated after fighting ended in October 2017. (Photo by Divina Suson)

Published: July 05, 2018 04:31 AM GMT
Updated: July 05, 2018 04:33 AM GMT

Just over a year ago, armed men attacked the city of Marawi in the southern Philippines, catching most Filipinos by surprise. 

The assault was, according to security expert Rommel Banlaoi, an attempt to take over the peaceful city to establish an Islamic State (IS) wilaya, or province, in the southern Philippines.  

President Rodrigo Duterte claimed that money from illegal drugs funded the terrorist activities in Mindanao.  

In his report to Congress to justify the declaration of martial law across the southern part of the country, Duterte said "foreign-based terrorist groups, IS in particular, as well as illegal drug money, provided financial and logistical support" to the gunmen.

The fighting lasted five months, claimed over a thousand lives and sent hundreds of thousands to evacuation centers and temporary shelters in nearby towns.

Aid agencies responded with food and other supplies for the so-called internally-displaced persons.

Most Marawi residents were traders, but the sudden evacuation forced them to leave their valuables, including cash stacked in vaults, in their houses. They thought the conflict would only last three to seven days. They were wrong.

Imam Ebra Moxsir, a police superintendent, said the terrorist gunmen ransacked the houses and emptied the vaults of cash. 

The religious leader assumed the post of Marawi police chief in July 2017, more than a month into the conflict.

Today, as government leaders vow to rebuild war-torn Marawi, affected residents are asking to be allowed to return to their homes and start the reconstruction of their community.

The International Committee of the Red Cross estimated about 230,000 displaced people still live in shelters.

Paschal Porchet, head of the aid agency's delegation in the Philippines, said efforts to rehabilitate Marawi and assist its people must be "stepped up" to reduce the suffering of those displaced.

He said there are efforts from various sectors "but these must match the growing needs of those who face prolonged displacement and are close to despair."

International and multisectorial responses have already shifted from the emergency phase to early recovery, and food donations have dwindled while livelihood opportunities remain wanting.

Most displaced families still rely on relatives and friends for support, while those in evacuation sites have continued to suffer from poor living conditions in makeshift camps, further increasing their risk of illness.

Several evacuees have reportedly wanted to give up but opted to be strong for the sake of the children.

The government said about 65,000 residents from the main battle area during the fighting will not be able to return home for the next two to three years. 

But a site that was built as a temporary home for these displaced people can only accommodate 6,000 individuals.

Porchet said the Red Cross remains committed to supporting the evacuees but added that it is the government's role to assist people affected by conflict.

Housing officials said the government has appropriated about 10 billion pesos (US$183 million) for the recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction programs of Marawi. The president gave another 5 billion pesos to a non-government initiative.

Civil society leader Samira Gutoc Tomawis, however, said rehabilitation is not just about buildings. 

"Every piece of broken glass is an emotion and memory that needs to be picked up with tender loving care," she said.

Spiritual recovery is needed to bring back normalcy in the city and is as valuable as infrastructure. Accommodating the rightful need to rebuild one's home, as a way of therapy, is necessary.

Catholic Bishop Edwin dela Pena of Marawi agreed. "It may be easier to rebuild homes than rebuild lives," he said.

Melo Acuna has worked as a broadcast journalist for the past three decades. He has spent time with faith-based groups in various dioceses in the Philippines through his work as a reporter and later as station manager of church-run radio Veritas 846.

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