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Rebuilding Marawi: Healing From The Inside and Out

Faith, renewal and thanksgiving… values we can all relate to, even if we don’t celebrate the Islamic holiday of Eid'l Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, Muslims’ holy month of fasting, worship and reflection.


Muslims make up about 6 percent of the population in the Philippines at more than 6 million, with the majority living in Mindanao. On Eid, they pray and celebrate with their families and communities, open their homes to neighbors, dress in new clothes and share food and well wishes.

In Marawi, many will celebrate Eid away from their homes for a third year – their property and businesses destroyed in a jihadist-led siege from May to October 2017. Since the city’s liberation, residents have been anxiously waiting for government officials to allow them back into the community so they can rebuild their lives. 



I’ve walked among the ruins of the shattered city and talked to displaced residents and local leaders in May 2018 and again last month. You’d think it would be easy to clear debris. I’ve seen massive construction projects in China and Singapore take less time to show more progress. But I learned that rebuilding Marawi is not just about physical structures, but reconstructing a way of life that merges tradition with the future. 



Maranaos, meaning "people of the lake," are indigenous to the shores of Lake Lanao and the province of Lanao del Sur, of which the capital is the 8,400-hectare Islamic City of Marawi. The Islamic State-inspired Maute terror group planned to capture the 250-hectare city center for its cultural and commercial significance. It became “ground zero,” the site of urban warfare and the target of government air strikes that devastated 24 barangays and displaced more than 15,000 families.

The central business district is also home to the region’s wealthiest residents and business owners. If you’re familiar with Manila, think of it as Forbes Park. These residents will have to live with relatives in other parts of the Philippines or in temporary or permanent shelters for 3 to 5 years. How long are you willing to live in a 22-square-meter, one-room pre-fabricated structure and bathroom? Even worse, about 300 families still live in tent cities. 



Here are four major considerations in rebuilding Marawi:



The siege that devastated the once prosperous city two years ago thrust a largely insular society that operated under its own rules and terms into the global spotlight. Most Marawi residents don’t use banking institutions, but instead keep their wealth in cash or gold bars in their homes. They also have personal arsenals of firearms and weapons. 

To the outsider, the society may seem lawless; but to locals, clans and the community police themselves. Which is why having a Chinese-led consortium was such an outrage, and why residents continue to distrust local and national officials from the outside. It is just not the way things are done in Marawi. 

Installing a new world order of governance and bureaucracy into a culture of verbal agreements and clan feuds known as “rido” is complicated and requires a change in mindset.


READ: Barongs, Wristwatches, Bags And More—These Philippine Products Are Living Embodiments Of Filipino Tradition



More than 30 foreign militants from Malaysia, Indonesia and the Middle East fought with the Maute group in Marawi, underscoring the importance of trust and communication with the community to prevent terror attacks from happening. 

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law across Mindanao to help the military target and eliminate the terror threats. It remains in effect through the end of this year, but Colonel Romeo Brawner, head of the 103rd infantry brigade that oversees Marawi, says he recommends extending it.

The rehabilitation gave the Philippine government the opportunity to determine the future of this stronghold of the south ?and define its role in preserving national security and addressing threats of extremism. 




The Philippine government’s inter-agency group Task Force Bangon Marawi says rehabilitating the war-town city will cost about USD $1.16 billion (PHP 60.51 billion) and will be completed by December 2021. Ground zero residents can start returning to their properties this July, with repairs at their personal expenses, unless lawmakers set aside funds for them. 

In response to perceived delays, task force chief Eduardo del Rosario explained that it takes time and resources to follow the protocols of clearing debris and hidden unexploded bombs, demolish 6,400 inhabitable buildings, and incorporate residents’ feedback in development. 

Another challenge — missing titles and multiple claimants to one property. A local land arbitration committee of Marawi leaders headed by the Department of Justice will be formed to settle the disputes this June. “We assure them that rightful claimants of those lots and buildings, we assure them that it will be returned back to them 100 percent,” del Rosario said.

In the meantime, construction is ongoing, including wider bridges and roads, proper facilities like sewage treatment, and even free province-wide wifi to ensure better communication in times of crisis.


READ: Photographer Raul Tangco Gives New York A Sneak Peek Of Uncharted Landscapes & Waterfalls In The Philippines



Talk to any Marawi resident and they will express frustration with a government they don’t fully trust. Some Maranaos, such as Dr. Monasir Bantuas, say it would have been faster to let the locals rebuild their community themselves. 

Some terror experts pointed out that resentment in the community can make the youth vulnerable to recruitment for jihadist ideology and extremist violence. But the numbers are low, Colonel Brawner says, down to about 25 terrorists, from a high of 1,000.

Residents hope the world hasn’t forgotten about them. “Maranao people are resilient and we will strive,” Bantuas said. “We will do our best with or without the help of the government. We will rise again as Maranaos.”


Photos courtesy of Annalisa Burgos