“We are told, ‘Stay home and stay safe. Wash your hands regularly,’ but the displaced Meranaws live in cramped makeshift spaces without sufficient water supply. Those whose homes are at ground zero still could not return.”
By MENCHANI TILENDO
MANILA — Meranaw victims commemorate the fourth year of Marawi siege with strong condemnation as government negligence and social injustice have aggravated the daily struggles they face.
Four years ago, around half a million of the Moro community from Marawi and nearby towns were forced to evacuate their homes because the government supposedly wanted to take down Dawlah Islamiyah. Lives have fallen, and many disappeared into the rubble as the government troops bombarded Marawi for weeks, non-stop.
“Many civilians–mostly women, children and elderly Meranaws were forced to live in cramped evacuation centers, with very little water supply and clean wash rooms. Four years have passed, yet thousands remain in evacuation centers, while many more migrated from Marawi for “safer” cities like Manila or Cebu. The promises made by the Duterte government remain buried into the rubbles”, Moro-Christian Peoples Alliance (MCPA) said in a statement.
The longtime socio-economic crisis experienced by the Meranaws is now made worse by the dreadful COVID-19 pandemic. It has made the victims of the siege even more vulnerable.
“We are told, ‘Stay home and stay safe. Wash your hands regularly,’ but the displaced Meranaws live in cramped makeshift spaces without sufficient water supply. Those whose homes are at ground zero still could not return,” MCPA added.
The right of return of the Meranaws
In a webinar on May 28 organized by Suara Bangsamoro, Sultan Abdul Hamidullah Atar of Marawi gave an update on the situation of his fellow Meranaws and their struggle for their right to return. Atar has been actively exposing the harsh realities in Marawi, especially the continuing violation of rights and the impacts of the war on the Meranaw people.
“The crisis in Marawi is one of the most humbling events that drastically destroyed the city, not only its physical features, but the lives of its people. Marawi City is the only Islamic city in the Philippines, with 69 percent of its people living in poverty even before the siege. This number has drastically increased after the so-called ‘liberation’ of Marawi, despite the available, abundant, and rich resources in the communities,” Atar said.
“Historically, the peace-loving people of Marawi have been suffering the impacts of colonization of the Spanish era, followed by the American and then the Japanese subjugation. Our ancestors fought to defend our homeland so that we can live in freedom and dignity against the colonizers,” Atar added.
The struggle of the Moro people for autonomy and right to self-determination is deeply rooted in longtime marginalization. This is manifested even in the incorporation of the Bangsamoro communities in the Philippine Republic. The forcible inclusion of the Moro people in the 1935 Commonwealth Constitution was opposed by hundreds of Meranaw leaders. They demanded that the Philippine Constitution should respect the norms, culture, religion and recognize the Meranaw people’s right to self-determination.
Atar said that the situation of the displaced families in Marawi is violative to the demands of the Meranaw people’s forefathers and has continuously been violated by the government until today.
“The issue in Marawi is not only an issue of violent extremism as portrayed by the security sector. It is more of an issue of historical injustice, marginalization, and oppression.The government should have a better understanding of the root causes of these issues to once and for all come up with an effective plan for peace and reconciliation,” Atar also said.
Anti-terror Law as a threat to the Moro people
On top of the worsening injustice, negligence, and social inequality among the people of Marawi, the Moro community is also largely facing the serious threats of terror-tagging. The horrors of the Marawi siege have also become a staging ground for the return of Martial Law in Mindanao and it has ironically provided an expansion of state terrorism with the signing of the Anti Terrorism Law.
Dexter Lopoz, spokesperson of the Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM), discussed the Anti-Terror Law and its impacts on the lives of the Moro people in Mindanao.
“In Mindanao, state security forces conducting major military operations are embedded in the Bangsamoro and Lumad communities. My personal fear is that if we lose in the deliberations of the Anti-Terror Law, and the Supreme Court says that all the existing provisions by the Anti-Terror Council are constitutional — this is Martial Law on steroids,” Lopoz said.
“If worse comes to worst, and the Supreme Court upholds all the provisions of the law, we will expect illegal arrests and warrantless detentions left and right. The people will not have any legal recourse under the law. That is how this will impact our lives, particularly the Bangsamoro communities – the internally displaced persons in Marawi City, the Lumad communities, and even the lives of Christian settlers in Mindanao,” Lopoz added.
The Meranaws’ struggle for their right of return and genuine rehabilitation of their communiities finds resonance in the long struggle of the Palestinian people against Israel’s illegal occupation. The recent escalation of conflict shows how an imperialist country, on another wave of rampage, has imposed with the highest degree of impunity the denial of right to land, life and identity of the Palestinian people in contravention to agreements and international laws despite global public outcry.
Palestine and the Moroland towards resistance
Norah Sarsour, national committee member and Southern California Chapter leader of the US Palestinian Community Network (USPCN) discussed how the Palestinian struggle binds with the Moro struggle towards greater resistance.
“The right of return is central to who we are and it is the vision of our refugees that we organize for our advocacies. Despite the agenda to continue the illegal settlements funded by the West, populated by White supremacists, colonial settlers, we are very proud to see the resistance that our people displayed in Gaza, West Bank, and in historical Palestine”, Sarsour said.
“The White supremacy of Zionism is the narrative that we see when it comes to the erasure of Indigenous Peoples worldwide. It’s this idea that we, as Indigenous Peoples, are less; and these are the supreme, better people that are entitled to do as they wish and erase the land of its original inhabitants,” she added.
Ceaseless cry for justice and reclamation
The horrors of the siege four years ago continue to haunt the people of Marawi until today. The deployment of around 22 battalions of the Philippine Army meant to “liberate” the Islamic CIty from alleged terrorist groups seemed to have destroyed the Moro people’s lives even more. On top of the long-existing poverty and social inequality, Marawi residents have been faced with life-threatening military exercises, mortar shelling, and aerial bombardments. As mentioned by Atar, these activities have reduced the city of Marawi into rubles.
The existence of over thousands of internally displaced persons cramped up in evacuation centers and temporary shelters reflects the deliberate neglect of the government on the Moro people’s outcry for their right of return.
“We have been lobbying for almost four years and the government has not shown even an ounce of sensitivity to the situation of our displaced brothers and sisters. Until now, residents are experiencing scarce electricity and unstable water systems. We demand justice and accountability from the government for the safe and dignified return to our homeland. We continue with the struggle to fully reclaim Marawi,” Atar ended.