COTABATO CITY: After fleeing Marawi City at the height of the war between government forces and terrorists from the Maute Group and Abu Sayyaf Group, residents are returning to their homes and slowly rebuilding their lives amid devastation of the only Muslim city in the country.
Assemblyman Zia Alonto Adiong, who represents Marawi City in the 24-seat Regional Legislative Assembly (RLA) in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), said authorities have allowed evacuees to return to areas declared safe by security advisers, among them bomb disposal experts.
“Residents of Barangay Basak Malutlut started returning to their homes on October 29,” according to Adiong, spokesman for the Lanao del Sur provincial crisis management committee.
Marawi City is the political and administrative capital of Lanao del Sur, which has 39 towns.
It was in Barangay Basak Malutlut of the city where government forces and combined Maute and Abu Sayyaf gunmen first clashed on May 23, sparking a conflict that lasted until October 23.
“We are thankful to the office of Marawi City Mayor Majul Gandamra and all other agencies and cause-oriented groups that are helping evacuees return to Marawi City,” Adiong said.
Abpisa Barese, 63, her husband Norlan, 67, and their daughter Zukra, 32, left their home in Barangay Basak Malutlut on May 26.
While in an evacuation center, she said she had to be strong.
Abpisa noted how internally displaced persons made sure nobody was left behind in the evacuation centers.
The unity of the evacuees, she said, helped her get back on her feet and provide for her family.
Abpisa is one of the more than 4,000 Basak Malutlut residents given clearance to return home last week.
Upon learning that they could finally go back home, she felt hopeful for the first time in months but had mixed feelings at the same time.
“We could go back now,” she said teary-eyed, adding, “I have long wanted to go back to our house but I also felt uneasy. They said it was already destroyed.”
Abpisa and her family cried upon seeing what was left of their home.
It was almost razed to the ground and appeared to have been looted and they were left with practically nothing.
She said the family does not know how and where to start rebuilding their lives as they have to make both ends meet with the meager resources they have left.
Despite this, Abpisa believes they can survive and surmount the ordeal and that the challenges they are facing are meant to teach them a lesson or two.
Her family was among the thousands of households that received food items from ARMM HEART (Humanitarian Emergency Assistance and Response Team).
“We are also thankful to different government agencies and non-government cause-oriented groups helping these evacuees,” Adiong said, adding that ARMM-HEART under the office of Regional Governor Mujiv Hataman has been helping the evacuees.
“Credit also has to go to the United Nations World Food Program for helping feed the evacuees, particularly displaced Maranao schoolchildren through the feeding program of ARMM’s Department of Education under Secretary John Amil Magno,” Adiong said.
With the city now declared free from the clutches of terror groups, the time has come for the people of Marawi City not only to rehabilitate their city but also rebuild their lives as proud Maranaos.