MANILA, Philippines – As Muslims ended their month-long observance of Ramadan this week, their women leaders had a common prayer: for their people to finally return to their homes and communities in Marawi that still lay in rubble more than two years after the May 2017 siege.
The leaders expressed their frustration over the government's snail-paced Marawi rehabilitation program on the sidelines of a forum at the Balay Kalinaw at the University of the Philippines (UP) during the iftar ceremony or breaking of the fast, on Monday, June 3.
United Religious Initiative senior advisor Dr Potre D. Diampuan lamented the prolonged suffering of the Marawi residents who did not only lose material possessions, but were also emotionally battered by their displacement.
The Duterte administration has promised a December 2021 target for the complete rehabilitation of the war-torn city. (READ: Frustrated Marawi evacuees still can't go home 2 years after siege)
Schoolchildren were among those greatly affected by the Marawi siege. The cost of reconstruction of the damaged schools in the city was estimated at around P2 billion. (READ: P2B needed to rebuild 29 ‘totally damaged’ Marawi schools).
Bureau of Muslim Affairs Director Yasmin Naga told Rappler that regular classes in less affected areas have resumed for this school year. However, there were no schools constructed yet in ground zero. Residents from ground zero were in transitory shelters while some were in the home bases like Iligan and Cagayan.
Naga said there were some displaced Marawi children who could not enroll this schooyear because of poverty, as their parents who lost their livelihood during the siege "had no financial support."
Diampuan said the 2021 rehabilitation target, would mean 4 years "stolen" from the lives of Marawi children.
"Can you imagine, it is a stolen stage of the [children's] lives. It's a stolen childhood, it's a stolen education, it’s a stolen growth and development of the children," she said.
While there was still a lot of frustration on the ground, there remained spots of optimism that can be seen in Marawi itself, where business establishments had reopened and some semblance of normalcy could be seen despite the slow pace of the rehabilitation.
Diampuan said aside from the government, others have come to the aid of Marawi residents such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also which donated goods transported via helicopter.
There are also students like Jonty “Aisha” F. Briona of the UP Institute of Islamic Studies (UP-IIS) who offered some help to internally displaced persons (IDPs).
Briona immersed near ground zero and joined a private organization which conducted a financial literacy program in the refugee camp to educate the IDPs about spending habits and Islamic banking based on Sharia Law.
“We did the financial literacy because in one of the research, violence and extremism [occur] because of poverty. So these people are driven to be extremist, to be radicalized because of the situation. So we did the financial literacy program,” she said.
Based on her immersion experience, she found hope seeing IDPs returning to their normal life.
“When I went to one of the colleges there – ‘Life has to go on,’ that is what they are telling us. Life has to go on...while their study is disrupted because of the siege. But basically, children are back to school,” Briona added.
'Rebuild our beings'
Naga described the Maranao as "very resilent."
“Although we are facing challenges, we are still trying our best. We hope that we can still rehabilitate ourselves and those we have lost,” she said in a mix of Filipino and English.
This resilience has been put to a test following the Marawi siege.
Diampuan said that for outsiders, photos of a destroyed Marawi might seem limited to physical damage, but for locals, the damage went far beyond that.
"Ang nakikita natin sa mga photos, sira ang bahay pero palagay ko mas wasak ang katauhan ng tao (What we see in the photos are destroyed houses but I think what sustained greater damage is one's entire being). It's more of our well-being, our culture, our heirlooms, our past, our history.... It is us; what defines a people. This is what makes up, and what we call, the culture," she said.
Beneath the veil of the Muslim women leaders are the faces of hope of those who experienced the Marawi siege. If there was one prayer that they included in their fasting, it was for their people to return home, and for their entire being to be restored.
“We wish na makabalik kami agad, marestore anuman nawala sa amin, emotionally marecover (We wish to return immediately, restore whatever we lost, recover emotionally)," Naga said, when asked for her prayer.
Diampuan for her part, said: “Allah, make us go home. Make it easy for us to rebuild our homes and rebuild our beings." – Rappler.com