Philippines

Marawi siege anniv rites ‘simple yet meaningful’

The third anniversary of the siege of Marawi, one of the fiercest urban battles in the country’s history, was observed in “simple yet meaningful” rites at an Army camp in the city on Saturday.

SCARRED BY THE SIEGE This March 28, 2018 file photo shows an aerial shot of a mosque surrounded by several damaged or flattened houses in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur province. Three years after the so- called Marawi Siege, the city is still far from being fully rehabilitated. AFP PHOTO

Col. Jose Maria Cuerpo 2nd, commander of the Army’s 103rd Infantry Brigade, said soldiers laid a wreath and flowers in Kampo Ranao for the victims of the fighting.

The rites were particularly meaningful for Cuerpo, who was the brigade’s deputy commander during the five-month-long conflict that killed more than a thousand people.

On May 23, 2017, Islamist terrorists opened fire on a small group of soldiers who were sent to Marawi to capture terrorists leader Isnilon Hapilon. What followed was weeks of street fighting that left most of the city in ruins and its population fleeing to safer ground.

The battle prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to place the entire Mindanao under martial law.

Government data shows that the siege displaced around 40,000 families.

“Despite this coronavirus disease pandemic, we have not and will never be forgetting the heroism displayed by our soldiers during the 2017 Marawi Siege,” Cuerpo said in a statement.

“Peace and development can be attained. Nothing is impossible if there is cooperation, understanding and discipline among us,” he said.

In a statement released Saturday. Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. paid tribute “to the heroism of our fallen men in uniform during the siege of the Islamic City.

Roque highlighted the efforts of the Duterte administration in relocating internally displaced persons (IDPs) and building the key infrastructures of Marawi.

He said the National Housing Authority has programmed 4,866 temporary shelters for IDPs and 2, 911 units have been occupied, as of last January.

The reconstruction of Mapandi Bridge, the center of the initial clashes, is now complete, Roque said.

In her message, Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo lamented that for the past three years since the siege, Marawi’s residents continue to suffer.

“Today, we mark the third anniversary of the Marawi Siege. To this day, the city lies in ruins, and its people’s lives are frozen in time. Many of its residents remain in temporary shelter communities,” the vice president said.

She pointed out that the three years of inaction and neglect in Marawi “is a thousand days too long.”

Robredo described Marawi as “not merely a tragedy to be remembered, [but as] an ongoing problem that needs to be solved.”

“A few days from now, we will celebrate Eid al-Fitr, a Muslim holiday whose message of compassion and inclusiveness should resonate with every Filipino regardless of creed,” she said.

Robredo said the city continues to suffer even as everyone faces the challenges brought about by the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

“Let us also remember that temporary shelter communities pose an even more profound challenge given the virality of Covid-19. Any outbreak in these tightly packed communities will increase the risk for all of us, and affect a public health system that is already under tremendous strain,” Robredo said.

With Arlie O. Calalo

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