‘We want our homes back’: Marawi residents’ plea to Philippines’ President Duterte

The damaged cityscape of Marawi City after extensive fighting between government troops and Daesh militants, last year. (Reuters)
Updated 24 May 2018
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‘We want our homes back’: Marawi residents’ plea to Philippines’ President Duterte

  • Many Maranao people, forced out by the five-month long battle to free Marawi from Daesh-backed militants, live in evacuation centers or with relatives on the edge of the war-torn city.
  • The Philippines government has told people who fled the fighting that it is working to rebuild the nation’s only Islamic city.

MANILA: “President Duterte, please give Marawi back to us.” That was the appeal by Faisa Riga, a 54-year-old native of Marawi, who was among those forced out when the Daesh-inspired Maute group attacked the Philippines’ only Muslim city in May last year.

One year after fighting between government forces and the extremists broke out, thousands of people displaced by the violence and a five-month siege remain in evacuation centers or live with relatives on the edge of the war-torn city.

Others, such as Riga, find themselves far from home and struggling to survive.

Riga and her 21-year-old daughter Azisa are in Metro Manila, where they have found work but earn barely enough money to make ends meet.

Interviewed by Arab News at an event in Quiapo, where Christians joined Muslims for iftar, Riga was close to tears as she related the difficulties they endured after being forced to flee the Marawi siege.

Life inside an evacuation center was hard because of the cramped space and irregular relief supplies, she said.

Last August, a fellow Marawi resident convinced Riga to move to Manila to work as storekeeper. However, she ended up working as house-help.

Riga’s employers treated her well, but she can’t help but feel sorry for herself. “I have never been a servant to anyone in my entire life,” she said.

Before the conflict erupted, she ran her own small restaurant in Marawi City.

Now Riga has a new job, looking after children, which earns her 3,000 peso ($60) a month. Her daughter works as storekeeper with weekly pay of 1,400 peso.

As the Philippines marks the first anniversary of the Marawi siege, Riga said she longs to “return home.”

“I wish they will give Marawi back to us,” she said, adding that she has heard “outsiders” are “taking over” their city.

“I wish there will be no more war. I hope nothing like the Marawi siege happens again because it only brings misery to people like us,” she said.

Another Marawi resident, Dr. Potre Dirampatan-Diampuan, of the United Religions Initiative, said that amid the difficulties brought by the five-month siege, “we keep on praying that the consequence is more beautiful than negative.”

Like Riga, she also hopes that there will be no more war. “In war, nobody wins,” she said.

Diampuan said her family house, which was built in 1948 and was one of Marawi’s landmark buildings, had been destroyed. Five months of fighting had turned people in the city into vagrants.

“We cannot undo the Marawi siege and the destruction of Marawi city. And so we accept what has happened,” Diampuan said.

The government’s efforts can be a chance for peace or another spur for violent extremism, she said.

A growing number of displaced residents are dismayed at not being consulted by the government, Diampuan said.

“Everybody wishes that their voices can be heard, and issues and concerns be addressed... (but many) displaced people have not been consulted.”

Meanwhile, the government has appealed for more patience, assuring Diampuan and others that the Duterte administration is boosting efforts to rehabilitate and rebuild Marawi.

“We remember Marawi. We pay tribute to the sacrifices of our fallen men in uniform and recognize everyone’s efforts in rebuilding the Islamic city,” a presidential spokesperson, Harry Roque Jr., told a press briefing on Thursday.

He said the government wanted people forced out by the siege “to return to normal lives.”

Much work has already been done. So far, 70 percent of displaced residents have returned to Marawi, living in temporary shelters built by the government.

All 67 evacuation centers in northern Mindanao and parts of Lanao del Sur will be cleared before the end of the year, with evacuees allowed to return home.

Describing the rebuilding plan, Roque said: “It will be a very modern... an Islamic city that will make all Filipinos proud.”


France’s Macron forced to curb his ambitions for Europe

Updated 19 May 2019
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France’s Macron forced to curb his ambitions for Europe

  • His pro-Europe vision has collided with populists and national interests across the continent
  • In his country, his political vision has given rise to France’s raucous yellow vest uprising over his government’s pro-business policies

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron sees himself as Europe’s savior and next week’s European Parliament elections as a make-or-break moment for the beleaguered European Union.
But Macron is no longer the fresh-faced force who marched into a surprising presidential victory to the rousing EU anthem two years ago. His pro-Europe vision has collided with populists and national interests across the continent. And at home, his political vision has given rise to France’s raucous yellow vest uprising over his government’s pro-business policies.
Macron wanted the May 23-26 European Parliament elections to be the key moment that he could push his ambitions for a stronger Europe — but instead, nationalists and populists who criticized the 28-nation bloc could achieve unprecedented success.
They argue that EU leaders have failed to manage migration into the continent and remain out of touch with ordinary workers’ concerns.
“We have a crisis of the European Union. This is a matter of fact. Everywhere in Europe, when you look at the past five to six years, in our country but in a lot of countries, all the extremes, extreme-rights, are increasing,” Macron said Thursday, making an unexpected appeal for European unity on the sidelines of a technology trade show.
“On currency, on digital, on climate action, we need more Europe,” he said. “I want the EU to be more protective of our borders regarding migration, terrorism and so on, but I think if you fragment Europe, there is no chance you have a stronger Europe.”
In person, the 41-year-old Macron comes across as strikingly, sincerely European. A political centrist, he’s at ease quoting Greek playwrights, German thinkers or British economists. France’s youngest president grew up with the EU and has been using the shared European euro currency his whole adult life, and sees it as Europe’s only chance to stay in the global economic game.
Macron has already visited 20 of the EU’s 28 countries in his two years in office, and while he acknowledges the EU’s problems, he wants to fix the bloc — not disassemble it.
Macron won the 2017 presidential election over France’s far-right, anti-immigration party leader Marine Le Pen on a pledge to make Europe stronger to face global competition against the Unites States and China. Since then, he’s had to make compromises with other EU leaders — and clashed with some nations where populist parties govern, from Poland to neighboring Italy.
Four months after his election, Macron outlined his vision for Europe in a sweeping speech at Paris’ Sorbonne university, calling for a joint EU budget, shared military forces and harmonized taxes.
But with Brexit looming and nationalism rising, Macron has had to reconsider his ambitions. He called his political tactics with other EU leaders a “productive confrontation.”
“In Europe, what is expected from France is to clearly say what it wants, its goals, its ambitions, and then be able to build a compromise with Germany to move forward” with other European countries, Macron said last week.
Macron stressed that despite her initial reluctance, German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed last year to create a eurozone budget they hope will boost investment and provide a safety mechanism for the 19 nations using the euro currency.
In March, Macron sought to draw support for a Europe of “freedom, protection and progress” with a written call to voters in 28 countries to reject nationalist parties that “offer nothing.”
And he proposed to define a roadmap for the EU by the end of this year in a discussion with all member nations and a panel of European citizens.
“There will be disagreement, but is it better to have a static Europe or a Europe that advances, sometimes at different paces, and that is open to all?” he asked.
France and Germany are the two heavyweights in Europe, and Macron can also count on cooperation from pro-European governments of Belgium, The Netherlands, Spain, Portugal and others.
He has made a point, however, of not yet visiting Hungary or Poland, two nations led by populist leaders whom Macron accused last year of “lying” to their people about the EU.
France has also been entangled in a serious diplomatic crisis with Italy over migration into Europe. Italy’s anti-migrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has repeatedly criticized Macron and is backing his rival Le Pen’s National Rally party in the election this week that aims to fill the European parliament’s 751 seats.
Macron has little chance to repeat Europe-wide what he did in France: rip up the political map by building a powerful centrist movement that weakened the traditional left and right.
The campaign for Macron’s Republic on the Move party is being led by former European Affairs Minister Nathalie Loiseau under a banner called “Renaissance.” The party wants to associate with the pro-market ALDE alliance to create new centrist group at the European Parliament.
But across the continent, the centrists are not expected to come out remotely on top but rank third or even lower behind the parliament’s traditional two biggest groups, the right-wing European People’s Party and the left-wing Socialists and Democrats group.
Even at home, Macron is far from certain of being able to claim victory in the European vote. Polls suggest his party will be among France’s top two vote-getters in the election, which takes place in France on May 26.
But its main rival, the far-right National Rally party, is determined to take revenge on Macron beating Le Pen so decisively in 2017.
Macron’s political opponents across the spectrum are calling on French voters to seize the European vote to reject his government’s policies.
While he won 64% of the presidential vote in 2017, French polls show that Macron’s popularity has been around half that for the past year.
It reached record lows when France’s yellow vest movement broke out last fall, demanding relief from high taxes and stagnant wages for French workers, then slightly rose as extensive violence during yellow vest protests, especially in Paris, dampened support for the movement’s cause.
Still, the yellow vests are not going away. New protests against Macron and his government are planned for the EU election day.