"The problems did not end with the liberation of Marawi."
Four years ago, we were taken aback when terrorists took over Marawi City and when the ensuing fighting flattened structures in the once-bustling city.
Extreme measures were taken, including the declaration of martial law. Eventually the terrorists were defeated, their leaders killed, and the city was liberated after five months of violence between terrorists and government forces.
For residents of the city whose lives were changed drastically by the siege, nothing was ever the same.
While these displaced residents survived the fighting, they found themselves having to eke out an existence one day at a time. In the evacuation centers that housed them, they had to make do with cramped facilities and very few resources. There was aid, of course, especially in the beginning, from both the government and non-government sectors.
The relief they obtained, however, was far from ideal. Long after Marawi was liberated, internally displaced persons experienced the consequences of ineptitude and even irregularities in the relief effort. A paper by the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies said while they were provided with basic necessities like food, clothing and sanitary products, the quality was poor and even caused them to be ill. There was also favoritism and corruption in the distribution of relief, with some favored families receiving more aid and more frequently.
The lack of space in evacuation centers also made continuing education difficult even as some organizations provided opportunities to learn; many parents had also lost their jobs or businesses, causing them to seek the help of their children in earning a living or tending to younger siblings. Disease was rampant, and returning to their communities, damaged if not destroyed by the fighting, was next to impossible.
Many suffered post-traumatic stress disorder on top of these immediate problems. Reconstruction of the city, much less rebuilding homes, became difficult even with external help, especially since other issues and disasters continued to strike in different places across the country in the next few years.
The problems did not end with the liberation of Marawi.
We marked on Sunday the fourth anniversary of the start of the siege. It’s a good opportunity to ask ourselves several questions. How safe are we from terrorists — the real kind who wield death and destruction on anybody, not those who criticize the government or suggest reforms? Have we been able to get the displaced people of Marawi truly get back on track, in all aspects of their lives? Finally, in the numerous instances where entire communities can again be displaced — by disasters natural and man-made alike — how soon can we respond in an efficient, organized way and help them get back on their feet? How are we able to account for the money — donations, loans and government funds — spent supposedly for reconstruction and recovery?
Again, we are reminded that it’s civilians at the heart of conflict zones and disaster areas, not the decision makers and armed leaders who call the shots, who suffer the most and the longest. We must address their needs, first and foremost.