Last Thursday, Oct. 17, was the second anniversary of the “liberation” of Marawi City from the clutches of the Maute Group, classified by Philippine national security agencies as a key terrorist or violent extremist group operating in the Lanao provinces.
Oct. 17, 2017, was the day all aerial and ground bombings in 24 barangays of the Islamic City of Marawi came to a halt.
For many Meranaos, that day may have put out the fires of the five-month war. But the battle for regaining their integrity and distinctive identity as Meranaos or the proud “people of the lake” — also started that day.
Leaders of nongovernment groups mobilized after the five-month Marawi siege, notably the Ranaw Multi-Sectoral Movement, the Moro Consensus Group and the United Mothers of Marawi Inc., have openly decried that the five-month siege was actually an “invasion of a different kind”, as an earlier article in this newspaper mentioned.
Other civil society groups and individuals, notably Drieza Lininding of the Moro Consensus Group, have constantly aired opposition to the way the reconstruction of a future “new and progressive” Marawi has been decided on, largely through the Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM).
Designs for an envisioned modern Marawi City have been planned without factoring in the Meranao’s distinctive sociocultural contexts, customary law and traditions, and most of all, their overall way of life as Muslims.
Attempts to redesign Marawi housing arrangements into what people from “imperial Manila” would like to establish for the devastated parts of the city have totally wiped out the Meranaos’ value of clan-based housing. Such housing arrangements reflect the Meranaos’ traditional concept of social protection, where extended families, joined by both ties of affinity and consanguinity prefer to stay together.
As a people, like all of us, the Meranaos are not perfect. Like the rest of humanity, they have their own debilities and shortcomings. But these should not be used to demean them as a people entitled to being treated with dignity, and as a people with a distinctive identity.
No less than President Rodrigo Duterte has made disparaging remarks against the Meranaos, saying that it was drug money that made the Meranaos rich. He has refused to provide funds for the reconstruction of houses in the most affected areas or Ground Zero since, he said, there are “rich people” the Meranaos, especially those who have become such due to the illicit drug trade.
For the last two years, more than 100,000 displaced Meranaos have been waiting for concrete answers to their questions of when they would be allowed to go back to the places where once stood their homes, and for them to slowly rebuild their lives, even on their own.
Columnist, Philippine Daily Inquirer
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.