MANILA - For some residents of Marawi, elation over the liberation of their southern city from Islamic State-linked terrorists was short-lived, as now they have to embrace the truth that they will return to ruined homes.
President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday declared that Marawi has been liberated from extremists after 4 months of fighting that left 1,000 people dead.
The crisis left much of the once urban and cultural center in ruins, with buildings either burned to the ground or damaged in firefights.
It also spawned a humanitarian crisis with more than 400,000 displaced from Marawi and nearby towns, many crammed in evacuation centers and temporary shelters.
Many evacuees fear that they would have no home to return to, said Baggie Cayamora, a Marawi resident who sought shelter in the neighboring town of Saguiaran.
"Halos lahat ng tao rito, gusto talagang umuwi kaya lang wala kaming mauuwian dahil iyung mga bahay namin talagang mga pulbo na," Cayamora said at an evacuation center housing 400 families.
(Almost everyone here wants to go home but we no longer have anywhere to return to because our houses have been crushed to powder.)
Raisha Bangonan, another evacuee, said she had considered finding another home in a safer Christian area, but had qualms about raising her children away from their Muslim roots.
Evacuees, she said, have pinned their hopes of homecoming on Duterte's rehabiltation plan for Marawi.
"Lahat ng plano niya, hihintayin namin. Iyun lang ang pag-asa namin. Wala kaming pag-asa na makauwi sa Marawi sa bahay namin. Alam ko sa sarili ko na wala na talaga kaming mauwian doon dahil sa side talaga kami ng danger area," Bangonan said.
(We will wait for all his plans. Those are our only hope. We have no other means of coming back home to Marawi. I know that no longer have anything to go back to because our house was beside the danger area.)
Like Bangonan, most evacuees prefer returning to Marawi over transferring to other cities, said Defense Operations Undersecretary Cesar Yano, citing a survey by the local government.
Authorities have started an assessment of post-conflict needs in Marawi, but has yet to peg the cost of returning the city to its old glory as the center of Islamic culture in the Philippines, Yano told DZMM.
Marawi residents would not be allowed to return to the city pending the neutralization of some 20 to 30 terrorist still holed up in the battle zone, said military spokesman Major General Restituto Padilla.
Authorities, he added, would have to clear the city of unexploded ordnance, homemade bombs and booby traps.
"Hindi pa basta-basta bumalik ang mga residente bagamat gusto natin," Padilla said in a separate DZMM interview. -- With Dennis Datu, ABS-CBN News