Marawi residents return to looted homes

ILIGAN CITY, Philippines – When Khalid Ali and his family returned to their home in Barangay Datu Saber on Saturday, November 3, he could not believe what he saw. The house appeared to have suffered a freak storm.

A former police officer born and raised in Marawi, Ali is familiar with local authorities, and was present at the 3 clearing operations conducted along Amai Pakpak drive. The residence is a few houses away from the Amai Pakpak Medical Center.

The house had been ransacked when Ali arrived. The thieves appeared to have entered through Ali's bedroom, positioned just along the street. He showed the two deadbolts and the chain bolt he used to lock the house. Outside, the padlocks were broken.

"They must have entered after the last clearing operations," Ali said, "after all the clearing was done."

The looters had left no room untouched. The family vault, containing property titles and scholastic records, had been emptied.

Antiques untouched

Nonie and Princess Rasuman, who own a nearby business establishment, also discovered much of the equipment for their printing services gone.

A desktop computer, a laptop, a hot-press printer, and hundreds of T-shirts on the shelves were gone. The looters had bypassed the roll-down front entrance, and went through the back instead, forcing open a kitchen window.

"We still have to conduct inventory our stocks here," Princess said. She estimates close to P120,000 lost in equipment alone.

The scene is the same in the houses of Junior Ali Bato, Rasmia Rangiris, and hundreds of other houses.

Moro Consensus Group Chairperson Drieza Lininding reported looting at the home of his in-laws, who live at the corner of Capitol Road and Matampay Street, just across the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

The months-long conflict never extended to Matampay Street, but looters forcibly entered the house, taking two airconditioning units and 3 LED televisions. Priceless brass antiques were left behind, as well as a ladder that may have been used to gain entrance.

Some residents were lucky, and reported no losses.

Alinoor Mangoranda, also a Datu Saber resident, said thieves may not have had any appreciation for the antiques they left behind. Mangondara's collection of brass heirlooms was left untouched.

Government 'must acknowledge' looting

Lininding, who attended a meeting of the government and civil society organizations, said he had asked that the government acknowledge the massive looting that took place.

"In denying that, there will be consequences," Lininding said. "It may not be today, but it could be in the future."

Lininding, who is also vice chairman of the Bangsamoro National Movement for Peace, warned that although people are too afraid to speak up, the government must "not be complacent in addressing their concerns."

In a Facebook post he published on the day of the Kambalingan or Return of Meranaws, Lininding said that he was speaking as both a victim and an internally displaced person (IDP). He raised two issues: the importance of IDP participation in the planning and execution of Marawi rehabilitation, and the looting and human rights violations that occurred during the conflict.

"I told the men in uniform present that there is a need to acknowledge and address those issues instead of covering up or denying it," Lininding said. "If we fail to address and manage the frustration and losses of the victims, we might face other extremist or radical groups in the future."

He cited the armed Meranaw Victims Movement, or MVM, and urged the government to use the police to investigate each looted home to alleviate fears. Any lack could "breed hatred" and "gain sympathy for the radicals."

Colonel Romeo Brawner, spokesperson for Joint Task Force Marawi, said that 5 soldiers and one army officer are already being investigated.

Lininding said full payment for damages are unnecessary, and instead suggested reparations.

"Just a portion of an amount, that’s all that is needed," he said.

The sentiment is also echoed by Princess Rasuman, who offers a simpler suggestion.

"Let the people return in Marawi without the safe conduct pass so businesses can thrives and we can regain what we have lost in 5 months," she said. "We can do all the hard work to return our lives to normal." –