Teary-eyed, hundreds search through rubble in devastated Philippines city

A woman looks at ruined houses, after residents were allowed to return for the first time to their homes on April 19, 2018, in Marawi, southern Philippines, since the battle between government troops and Daesh-inspired militants began in May 2017. (REUTERS/Erik De Castro)
Updated 21 April 2018
0

Teary-eyed, hundreds search through rubble in devastated Philippines city

  • Daesh militants seized parts of the Muslim city of 200,000 people in May 2017, prompting massive evacuations
  • Damage to property was estimated at $211 million after government troops fought for five months to retake the city

MARAWI, Philippines: Surrounded by the ruins of homes they fled nearly a year ago, many residents of war-torn Marawi City in the Philippines were in tears when they briefly returned this week and sifted through rubble to salvage any possessions they could find.
The Muslim-majority city of 200,000 was over-run by militants loyal to the Daesh group last May, who fought the military for five months before they were ousted. After almost daily aerial bombardments and artillery fire, large parts of the picturesque, lakeside city have been devastated.
Hundreds of residents who had fled to refugee camps or to relatives’ homes in nearby towns were briefly allowed back by authorities to the ruins of the central business district on Thursday.
Calim Ali, 50, stepped out of her vehicle to find a ruined, empty plot where her home had stood in the bustling heart of the city. The only possession she could recover was a charred weighing scale that she said her family used in their fruit and rice business.
“I brought empty sacks. I thought we would still find something, like pots, and our money box,” Ali said, while her husband searched through the thick vegetation growing in the rubble.
Ali’s family is among about 27,000 others that lived in the main battle area, straddling over 24 barangays, or municipal districts. The area has remained off limits until this month, when the military said it had cleared it of hazards like booby traps and unexploded ordnance.
No civilian was permitted to stay in the area after 3 p.m. on Thursday, and the rule will remain in place on other days when visits are permitted, officials said.
There are 20 other barangays in the city which were not affected, and 50 others which were spared heavy shelling. Families have moved back to these areas.
There seems no chance of any early return for the residents of the city center.
Most buildings are in ruins and there is no food, electricity or any sewage facilities. Authorities say the area will take years to rebuild.
Meanwhile, posters showing residents how to recognize live mortar shells, grenades, aircraft rockets and improvised explosive devices were put up on every street, to remind the people to be careful as they sifted through the ruins.
Soldiers manning the area on Thursday ordered a group of residents scouring debris to quickly leave one of the streets after they found an unexploded bomb, which they detonated.

“Hurts so much"
“I’m at a loss for words,” Aisah Riga, 54, told Reuters, wiping away tears as she and her family rummaged through debris to find anything of use from what used to be their glass and aluminum supply store.
“This is our only source of livelihood and now it’s gone. I don’t know how we will survive. I have nine children,” she said.
Sobaidah Moner, 43, was waiting for the military to let the long line of vehicles into the main battle area as she recounted the day she and her family hurriedly left the city a day after fighting broke out on May 23.
“We were not able to bring anything except for the clothes we were wearing that day. All the clothes we are wearing right now were given to us by relatives,” she said, her voice breaking with emotion.
Like Moner, several residents who spoke to Reuters said they abandoned their belongings and only brought clothes for a few days when they sought safety in nearby towns, thinking that the gunbattle, which was not uncommon in Marawi, would soon be over.
“I thought the fighting would be over in three days. We didn’t expect this. It hurts so much,” Moner said.
Residents said they are pinning their hopes on the government’s promise to rehabilitate and rebuild the city. But the extent of damage, estimated at 11 billion pesos ($211 million) means it would take years of work to reconstruct Marawi.
“The most affected area has its own development plan which is expected to be finished by 2021,” said Felix Castro, housing assistant secretary, and field office manager of an inter-agency government task force named “Bangon Marawi (Rise Marawi).”
A Chinese-led consortium, also called Bangon Marawi, has been chosen for the reconstruction, but other bidders would be asked to compete and it will be allowed to match the best proposal, Castro said.
Rehabilitation work is scheduled to start in June, he said.
For now however, the once-bustling center of the city is lifeless.
“Before you could hear the sound of cars, and anything you wanted to buy was available. But now that we are here, there’s only silence,” said Jalil Solaiman, a 39-year-old resident.


Fresh protests rock Hong Kong as activists seek a voice at G20

Updated 8 min 51 sec ago
0

Fresh protests rock Hong Kong as activists seek a voice at G20

  • Millions have thronged the streets in the past three weeks to demand that the extradition bill be scrapped altogether
  • Demonstrators have seized on this week’s G20 summit in Japan to appeal for Hong Kong’s plight to be put on the agenda
HONG KONG: Hong Kong was plunged into chaos again on Thursday as protesters rallied outside the justice secretary’s offices, blocking roads and forcing workers to leave in the latest unrest to rock the city over an extradition bill that has now been suspended.
Millions have thronged the streets in the past three weeks to demand that the bill, which would allow criminal suspects to be sent to the mainland for trial in courts controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, be scrapped altogether.
“I think this movement is very successful because this time the goal is very clear,” said one protester, Ken Yau, drawing a contrast with Hong Kong’s 2014 democracy movement that gridlocked parts of the Asian financial center for 79 days.
“I was 11 when the Umbrella Movement happened. I only went to the occupied sites a few times with my family.”
In sweltering heat of 32°C (89.6°F), some protesters chanted, “Withdraw evil law, release martyrs ... Teresa Cheng, come out,” referring to the justice secretary. Others shouted, “Condemn excessive force by police and release protesters.”
Police formed a cordon to block the demonstrators, and one officer held a banner warning them away. Minor scuffles broke out between pro-democracy group Demosisto and officers.
“Fight for Justice,” “Free Hong Kong,” and “Democracy Now” were some of the demands emblazoned on the protesters’ banners.
Police chief Stephen Lo warned of consequences for outbreaks of violence and condemned what he said was an environment of hostility making his officers’ task difficult.
In the early hours, riot police wielding batons and shields chased dozens of protesters as they broke up a siege of police headquarters.
The demonstrators have seized on this week’s G20 summit of world leaders in Japan to appeal for Hong Kong’s plight to be put on the agenda, a move certain to rile Beijing, which has vowed not to tolerate such discussion.
“We know that the G20 is coming. We want to grasp this opportunity to voice for ourselves,” said Jack Cool Tsang, 30, a theater technician who took a day off work to protest.
Images of police firing rubber bullets and tear gas beneath gleaming skyscrapers this month near the heart of the financial center grabbed global headlines and drew condemnation from international rights groups and protest organizers.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, who has kept a low profile over the past few days, bowed to public pressure and suspended the bill a day after the violent protests but stopped short of a full withdrawal and rejected repeated calls to step down.
The demonstrations, which pose the greatest popular challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping since he took power in 2012, have repeatedly forced the temporary closure of government offices, blocked major roads and caused massive disruptions.
Since Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, it has been governed under a “one country, two systems” formula that allows freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, including the liberty to protest and an independent judiciary.
But many accuse China of increased meddling over the years, by obstructing democratic reform, interfering with elections, suppressing young activists, as well as being behind the disappearance of five Hong Kong-based booksellers who specialized in works critical of Chinese leaders.
Opponents of the extradition bill fear being placed at the mercy of a justice system rights group say is plagued by torture, forced confessions and arbitrary detentions.