‘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

‘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.”

Australian nun who angered Duterte wins stay in deportation

Updated 4 min 8 sec ago

Australian nun who angered Duterte wins stay in deportation

MANILA: An Australian nun ordered to leave the Philippines after angering President Rodrigo Duterte won a reprieve on Monday from imminent deportation but is still subject to proceedings to expel her.
Sister Patricia Fox, 71, was briefly detained in April after Duterte ordered her arrest, accusing her of political activism that violated the rules of her visa.
The move came as the government cracked down on foreign critics of his human rights record.
The immigration service had canceled her visa and directed Fox to leave the Philippines by Monday, but the justice department nullified the order as having no legal basis.
“What the (immigration service) did in this case is beyond what the law provides, that is why it has to be struck down,” said a statement from Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who oversees immigration matters.
The decision gave Fox a reprieve but the department also ordered the immigration authorities to hear a case on her visa’s cancelation along with pending deportation proceedings.
“Until a final resolution of the... proceedings is reached, or until the expiration of her missionary visa, whichever comes first, Sister Fox may continue to perform her duties as a missionary in the Philippines,” the statement said.
Fox, who declared herself relieved after the decision, said her visa was valid until September 9.
“We are very pleased actually, because we weren’t sure what would happen,” she told AFP. “I was just so relieved.”
Fox, who has been living in the Philippines since 1990, attracted Duterte’s wrath after joining a fact-finding mission in April to investigate alleged abuses against farmers — including killings and evictions by soldiers fighting guerrillas in the southern Philippines.
Duterte, 73, has also launched a deadly crackdown on drugs and has railed against human rights critics, especially foreigners whom he accuses of meddling in his nation’s affairs.
In April Duterte accused Fox of “disorderly conduct.”
“Don’t let her in because that nun has a shameless mouth,” he said then.
A missionary of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion, Fox has denied engaging in politics, saying her actions were part of her work to advocate for justice and peace. She adds she enjoys freedom of expression.
Before Monday’s decision was released Fox said she would fight moves to deport her.
“It’s more of looking at getting due process for myself (and) this happening to others,” she told ABS-CBN television.
“I’m thinking if there’s no due process when I am high profile, how much more in the provinces where people are being arrested?“