Marawi war’s fortunate return to looted homes
Six months of battles between troops and Daesh have killed 1,100 people
Khaliluddin Esmail returned home on Sunday 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.” Esmail, 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-Daesh terrorists that killed more than 1,100 people and displaced some 350,000.
Six days after troops killed the last remaining rebels, Esmail 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.
Esmail fled with his family on May 24 during a fierce threeday firefight that erupted just 50 metres away, when security forces tried to raid the hideout of notorious militant leader Isnilon Hapilon, Daesh’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 Daesh’s extremist agenda had gained a foothold in the south of the mainly Catholic country.
Armed police at checkpoints cross-checked documents and pictures of each passenger 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, Dh356) 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 jewellery, money, furniture and antiques had been stolen. He said he feared he would have starved or been killed had he stayed behind.
Norida Manna’s three-storey house was levelled by an air strike, but she’s thankful she’s alive. [“My home was destroyed, but I don’t blame the military. They had a job to do,” she said.