MARAWI CITY – A year after the breakout of the siege that left this city in heaps of debris and scrap metal, Maranaos on Wednesday gathered in a gymnasium at the provincial capitol to pray and remember the lives lost during the 5-month war in their beloved hometown.
During the prayer, 36-year-old Norma Romoro could not help but shed tears as she remembered her elder brother who died after being trapped in Barangay Dansalan, one of the 24 worst hit barangays, in the peak of the firefights between Maute terrorists and government troops.
"Kung hindi siya namatay, ngayon karamay ko pa rin sana siya," she told ABS-CBN News, still trying to control her emotions.
(If my brother were alive, he would have been here supporting me.)
Apart from her brother, the family also lost their home where she and her sibling had grown up. They are now among the thousands of bakwits (evacuees) waiting for government's plan to help them recover.
Romoro shared that she was pregnant when the war broke out on the 23rd of May last year. While rushing out of Marawi, her water broke earlier than scheduled, giving birth to her son, a new source of hope while they lived the temporary lives of bakwits.
Jalilah Palala, meanwhile, also shed tears as she prayed for the coming years of her life as an evacuee. She and her family used to live a decent life as sari-sari store owners in Barangay Daguduban before the war in the lakeside city destroyed everything they had worked for.
"Hindi namin makalimutan 'yung nangyari sa amin. Marami sa amin ang hindi maka-move on sa nangyari," the mother of three told ABS-CBN News. "Sana tulungan niya (President Rodrigo Duterte) kaming makabangon, sa pinansyal talaga—puhunan."
(We can't forget what happened in Marawi. Most of us can't move on. We hope President Duterte will help us rise again by giving us financial help, capital.)
As displaced residents sobbed for their loss, Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza came to extend sympathies on behalf of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Dureza, who recently spoke with Duterte, said the President has been planning to visit Marawi but the Chief Executive told him to just extend his sympathies to the Maranaos commemorating the first year of the start of the siege..
"Nag-extend (ng sympathies) siya dahil plano niya talaga pumunta rito. But he said 'please extend my greetings to them and I'm one [with] them in commemoration [of] what happened,'" Dureza said in an ambush interview.
(He extended his sympathies because he was really planning to go here.)
Special Assistant to the President Christopher Go earlier said Duterte believes the commemoration of the Marawi siege should be in October, when the southern Philippine city was liberated from the clutches of terrorists.
Wednesday's prayer gathering was the culmination of the "week of peace," a series of activities initiated by Task Force Bangon Marawi to commemorate the first anniversary of the breakout of the siege. In these events, the task force wanted to emphasize the importance of peace in the community.
As early as November last year, residents who lived in barangays outside the most affected areas have started to go home only to find their houses in utter disarray and their hard-earned possessions looted—by terrorists or others, they are uncertain.
Meanwhile, thousands of families who hail from 24 barangays that saw the most destruction are still staying in different evacuation centers and temporary shelters as they wait for at least three years for the government to fully rebuild the war-ravaged portion of the city.
May they be in tent cities or in temporary shelters, the bakwits all have the same plea— water, cash assistance, a clear plan for the displaced, and the fast-tracking of Marawi's rehabilitation.
Some Maranao groups have slammed the government for not including them in the rebuilding plan. They said their proposals, like the scrapping of the proposed military camp in the city, among others, have not been included in what has been presented to them so far.
Government earlier announced a P72-billion rehabilitation effort.
Task Force Bangon Marawi earlier announced that it is in talks with a China-led consortium about the reconstruction of the once-bustling city. The government vowed to speed up their efforts but also appealed for patience among the evacuees.
"You cannot rebuild overnight," said Dureza, hoping the displaced residents would understand that the government is doing its best.
Around a thousand people, including soldiers, terrorists, and civilians were killed in the 5-month Marawi siege last year. The war between the Islamic State-inspired terrorists and government troops began on May 23, 2017, when authorities attempted to arrest wanted terrorist leader Isnilon Hapilon.