‘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.”

’We’ll come back for you’: US fires split families, pets

Updated 18 November 2018

’We’ll come back for you’: US fires split families, pets

  • Many animals arrived at the shelters injured and burned
  • The animal shelters are working with dozens of volunteers responsible for feeding, caring for and walking the animals

CHICO, United States: Steve Cox pets and cuddles Ernie, his 10-year-old English bulldog, before leaving him at a shelter. Cox lost his home in California’s devastating wildfires, and now they have to part.
“Don’t you worry Ernie. I am not gonna let you down. We’ll come back for you,” Cox whispers.
He has been staying at a hotel but it doesn’t take pets. For a week, Cox tried to take care of Ernie in the back of his pickup truck.
But now, as Cox tries to get his life back on track, he thinks Ernie would get better care at one of three animal shelters in northern California’s Paradise area where the so-called Camp Fire has claimed 76 lives and left more than 1,000 unaccounted for.
In this rural area, which had many horses, one shelter is for large animals.
Then there are two small facilities where helpers are working with dogs, cats, chickens, rabbits, turtles and even swans.
Ernie is walking with a bit of trouble after an operation on an abscess in one of his front legs. Cox says the dog is lazy, though, so he thinks Ernie will adapt quickly to the separation by sleeping a lot.
The main shelter was set up in the city of Chico’s airport, near Paradise, where rescue and firefighting operations have been based.
Animals saved by firefighters are dropped off there to be cared for.
One woman arrives desperate, her hands trembling. She pulls out an envelope of photos of her cats and dogs.
“Please, let me in and see. I might find them,” she begs in a tearful voice.
When the fire began to threaten Paradise, Cox was headed home from the doctor with his wife. He could have stopped but instead kept going, to rescue Ernie and two other smaller dogs he has.
“They are family. I couldn’t just leave them. We had 10 minutes to leave,” he recalls.
Cox, who lived there since 1973, said he lost two houses, and many pieces of furniture that his father had left him, in the blaze which virtually wiped the entire community from the map.
“I have a big question mark above my head. I don’t know what I’ll do,” he says, his face showing exhaustion.
The animal shelters are working with dozens of volunteers responsible for feeding, caring for and walking the animals.
They also have volunteer veterinary technicians, including Marshall Riddle, who are responsible for treating them.
Many animals arrived at the shelters injured and burned.
“It’s never easy, but we have to make sure every animal is safe,” he says.
The most worrying cases were sent along to specialized clinics.
Although these are not the first shelters of their kind in the state regularly ravaged by wildfires, the blazes have never been so deadly.
“Butte County is always on fire,” said Karen Falconer of the North Valley Animal Disaster Group, which runs another of the shelters, in an old hospital in the town of Oroville.
There are about 430 animals, separated into zones. The dog section is barking noisily but the cat zone is quieter.
“We’ll take care of them as long as necessary,” Falconer told AFP.
For Cox, the separation was just starting, while others were already rejoicing in reunion.
Little Eva’s face lit up when her six-month-old kitten Luke Skywalker — named for the “Star Wars” character — was handed over to her and her parents, Robert Pieper and his wife Brittany.
They had already searched in another shelter for their pet African tortoise named James Peterson.
The fire destroyed their house in Magalia, just outside Paradise.
Now, after days in a shelter and then a hotel, they were able to rent an apartment where they could be with their pets and try to start over the life the wildfires had burnt beyond recognition.