The threat posed by the Islamic State is still far from over as the five-month firefight between government forces and armed non-state actors or “militants” in Marawi City has supposedly come to an end. According to a November 2017 report by the Amnesty International, the conflict resulted to unlawful killings and hostage-taking by militants, ill-treatment by government forces, trapped civilians, looting by all parties involved, and large scale destruction following air and ground attacks.
Scale of the conflict
The Department of National Defense (DND) released estimates that over 920 militants, 165 soldiers, and 47 civilians were killed during the battle, while around 1,780 hostages were rescued. The Amnesty International, together with human rights organizations and journalists, however, indicate that the total number of civilians killed by militants and government air strikes is likely understated. Meanwhile, the reconstruction of the city may take over three years and cost more than a billion dollars, according to the city mayor and DND secretary, respectively.
A report by the Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM) of the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) indicates that the conflict has affected over 96 barangays, 207,970 individuals, and 32,577 households. Further potential impacts of the battle towards neighboring towns were eventually contained as Philippine government forces were able to shrink the war zone by enclosing three bridges: Baloi Bridge, Bayabao Bridge, and Masiu Bridge.
Meanwhile, several countries and foreign agencies have pledged rehabilitation aid for Marawi City, but the OCD stresses that foreign aid will still have to be assessed by the TFBM. This aid will tentatively come from Canada, China, Germany, Korea, India, Thailand, Singapore, United States Agency for International Development, and the ASEAN Coordinating Center for Humanitarian Assistance on Management, among others. They will focus on the early recovery and rehabilitation in Marawi City and other affected areas.
Meanwhile, various efforts have also been undertaken by the De La Salle Philippines (DLSP) under the #OneLaSalleForMarawi relief efforts initiative. According to a report from La Salle Academy (LSA) Iligan City Social Action Staff Andrew Pamorada, donations have totaled to over P2,777,484.74 for cash and in-kind donations. Apart from LSA, the initiative was also participated in by the social action offices of various La Salle schools. As of press time, the initiative has helped over 9,127 families, 57,306 individuals, and 12,800 children in Marawi City.
“We usually conduct ocular inspection first to the different evacuation centers and interview the coordinators and evacuees on what they need. We then assess their needs and evaluate what important things they need the most. The actual donation or activity will be done based on the priority need that is identified,” Pamorada elucidates their strategy in providing aid. The LSA also partnered with local government units and non-government organizations for the implementation of the programs and activities.
“One of the challenges that we encountered during the start of the relief efforts is the lack of personnel and we’re just relatively new in LSA. We also lack in knowledge and background about the Maranao people and Marawi itself before. We don’t understand at first why they do some things or why do they have some certain kind of behavior during our activities,” Pamorada explains. “But as we meet and engage with them we learned their culture, background, and stories as well. We [began to] realize a lot of things and understand them.”
Relief, recovery, rehabilitation
The initiative was divided into three different phases: relief, recovery and rehabilitation. The relief phase focused on the provisions of “family packs”, which included toothpastes, bath soaps, laundry powders, shampoo, canned goods, mineral water, and tissue paper. These were distributed to various evacuation centers such as the Iligan National School of Fisheries and Buru-un Gym, among others. Meanwhile, relief packing was also handled by college students like those from the Mindanao State University – Iligan Institute of Technology.
The main challenges with the relief phase, however, include reports that Marawi locals are dependent on the local government and non-government organizations (NGO) for help, relief goods are mostly unhealthy, relief goods are reportedly being sold, and most of the NGOs’ funds and resources are depleted already. As of press time, Pamorada states that they are still giving out donations to families displaced by the battle.
The recovery phase focused mostly on the distribution of Mingo nutritional packs, psychosocial activities, and provisions of toys, shirts, and ice cream for the people of Marawi. Around 120,000 Mingo nutritional packs were distributed with the help of the Negrense Volunteers for Change (NVC) Foundation, nutritional teams from the Department of Health, and the Amai Pakpak Emergency Response Team.
Overall, the Mingo packs distributed were worth around P700,000. Mingo nutritional packs are instant, complementary food consisting of rice, mongo, and malunggay. They are primarily provided for infants and toddlers, and have gained popularity as emergency food in relief operations across the Philippines.
Meanwhile, psychosocial activities focused on games, coloring activities, and other initiatives such as distribution of Mingo packs, toys, shirts, and ice cream. Some of the problems cited with the recovery phase, however, were that the psychosocial activities focused only on children, the activities were mainly “basic” such as games and coloring, the lack of manpower and trained facilitators made the mobilization of resources difficult, and the events were one-time only and were unsustainable.
The LSA report emphasizes that the rehabilitation phase for Marawi City will take a long time as it is focused on key public infrastructures that were damaged and gaps and inequities caused by the battle. Amid all these, conflict sensitivity and peace building are among the primary objectives that “will foster connections and enhance peace capacities” in the city. Although no finalized proposal has been drafted yet, some initiatives are already ongoing.
One of those key initiatives is education. The Department of Education – Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (DepEd – ARMM), through response interventions since June 5, has been deploying teachers to temporary learning spaces and schools for Marawi children who have been displaced together with their families.
DepEd – ARMM also assisted in terms of distributing learning materials, setting up temporary learning spaces, conducting feeding programs, and training Marawi teachers, among others. As of August 2017, around 16,734 children from Marawi have benefited from the aforementioned interventions. Meanwhile, as of June 2017, the DepEd – ARMM Action Center for Education reports that there were over 1,431 teachers displaced due to the conflict.
Livelihood is another key initiative that recently transpired. Two major activities include farming rice, corn, coconut, and turmeric, among others, as well as trading and exporting textiles, wood carvings, and materials made from blacksmithing. Brgy. Bito Buadi Itowa and Brgy. Emi Punud are places where the livelihood programs are being conducted.
As the rehabilitation phase is still at its nascent stages, several concerns arise. Among some of these are that the evacuees are expected to stay in the evacuation centers for two to three more years, and that there is a lack of skilled trainers and facilitators. To resolve some of these issues, DLSP recommends having point persons, getting more trainers or teachers, and coordinating with NGOs, organizations, and ARMM local government units.
Countering violent extremism
Pamorada cites how violent extremists “brainwash” people, especially the youth, in joining their group. He reveals, “The problem of poverty is really noticeable and the [extremists] are using this in order to attract people by giving them allowances, which range from P25,000 to P50,000 per month, and even guns and ammunitions.”
Extremists are also taking advantage of the people’s hatred on the government. For instance, Pamorada expresses that extremists provide the people public facilities that the local government cannot provide. In the long run, some of these people result to joining the extremist groups.
“One of the problems right now that these ideologies still continue even after the war. The violent extremists are now even recruiting war victims, especially those people who have houses that were destroyed. They are telling them that the government troops are the ones who destroyed their houses because of the airstrikes. Thus, proper education, giving of alternative ways of livelihood, and good governance are some probable ways we could help stop the spread of these ideologies,” Pamorada opines.