Losses, loot­ing as Filipinos re­turn to Marawi city

Kuwait Times - - International -

MARAWI CITY: Khalilud­din Is­mail re­turned home yes­ter­day after five months of war in the south­ern Philip­pines to find his house ran­sacked. But he’s still smil­ing. “At least we have some­thing left,” he said, stand­ing in a room with clothes, toys, or­na­ments and dam­aged pic­tures strewn across the floor. “Oth­ers have noth­ing. They lost their homes, they lost their lives.” Is­mail, 44, the Imam of a nearby mosque, con­sid­ers him­self one of the luck­i­est peo­ple in Marawi.

The city was dev­as­tated by more than 150 days of bat­tles be­tween gov­ern­ment forces and pro-Is­lamic State mil­i­tants that killed more than 1,100 peo­ple and dis­placed some 350,000. His house is in Marawi’s safe zone, an area long aban­doned by res­i­dents but un­touched by un­re­lent­ing shelling and mil­i­tary air strikes that have all but flat­tened the city’s com­mer­cial heart, de­stroy­ing thou­sands of homes, shops and ve­hi­cles. Six days after troops killed the last re­main­ing rebels, Is­mail was among about 4,000 peo­ple al­lowed to re­turn to their homes on Sun­day in Marawi’s Basak Ma­lut­lot area.

Many like him have dis­cov­ered their houses were looted and left in dis­ar­ray. “I opened the door and I was shocked, but I’m still happy to be home,” he said. Is­mail fled with his fam­ily on May 24 dur­ing a fierce three-day fire­fight that erupted just 50 me­ters away, when se­cu­rity forces tried to raid the hide­out of no­to­ri­ous mil­i­tant leader Is­nilon Hapi­lon, Is­lamic State’s anointed “emir” in South­east Asia. Hapi­lon es­caped, then is­sued a call to arms to hun­dreds of in­sur­gents to ini­ti­ate their planned takeover of Marawi. It sparked the Philip­pines’ big­gest ur­ban bat­tle in re­cent his­tory, and fears that Is­lamic State’s ex­trem­ist agenda had gained a foothold in the south of the mainly Catholic coun­try.

Happy home­com­ing

There were scenes of joy and chaos as a con­voy of re­turn­ing res­i­dents poured in to Marawi to a ca­coph­ony of horns and whis­tles, jam­ming what only a few hours ear­lier were de­serted streets. Armed po­lice at check­points cross-checked doc­u­ments and pic­tures of each pas­sen­gers from the 712 fam­i­lies, to guard against pos­si­ble in­fil­tra­tion by mil­i­tants.

Ba­bies cried as of­fi­cials at a pub­lic hall shouted on mega­phones to try to es­tab­lish or­der as hun­dreds jos­tled to regis­ter for the sack of rice and 5,000 pe­sos ($97) al­lo­cated to each house­hold. With a stern face, the district’s elderly chair­woman, Jamel­lah In­dol Saro, yelled in the lo­cal Maranao di­alect at anx­ious res­i­dents to calm down. “I told them we have to thank Al­lah we’re still alive,” she said, smil­ing.

Some 6,500 fam­i­lies are due to re­turn this week in a phased repa­tri­a­tion, a frac­tion of the 77,000 that fled to evac­u­a­tion camps or nearby towns. Many face a lengthy wait for vast swathes of Marawi to be re­built. Re­tired gov­ern­ment em­ployee Mi­tor­mar Gol­ing, 72, came home to find jew­elry, money, fur­ni­ture and an­tiques had been stolen. He said he feared he would have starved or been killed had he stayed be­hind. “We felt the ground trembling from the air strikes. We didn’t know if the army could pro­tect us,” said Gol­ing, wear­ing sun­glasses and a white skull cap. “If you don’t be­lieve in their ide­ol­ogy, ISIS sees you as the en­emy,” he said, re­fer­ring to Is­lamic State.

De­stroy city to save it

He was among many peo­ple who said they un­der­stood that the mil­i­tary had to de­stroy the city to save it. Norida Manna’s three-storey house was lev­elled by an air strike, but she’s thank­ful she’s alive. The of­fice clerk and sin­gle mother of six will now live at her sis­ter’s home, from which she fled in May as troops out­side bat­tled hooded, black-clad gun­men who helped the es­cape of Hapi­lon. The rebel com­man­der was sub­se­quently killed in a mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion 13 days ago. “My home was de­stroyed, but I don’t blame the mil­i­tary. They had a job to do,” she said. “I have noth­ing left, but to us, ev­ery day is a happy one now.”—


BALO-I, Philip­pines: Young evac­uees cook rice in front of their tent at an evac­u­a­tion cen­tre in Balo-i town, Lanao del Sur prov­ince, on the south­ern is­land of Min­danao.

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