Hundreds of desperate survivors of a siege by Islamic State-linked militants on Wednesday trooped to the streets to demand access to their ruined homes in the southern Philippine city of Marawi.
Seventeen months after the Philippine military chased away militants from Marawi in fierce fighting that claimed 1,200 lives, college student Leah Mehila said she was still living with her family in a cramped evacuation site.
“We have shed so many tears the past two years. Please let us go home,” Mehlia said as she joined a march of about 1,000 Marawi residents forced to flee their homes in 2017.
Mehlia’s family is among an estimated 10,000 families still living in evacuation sites, despite pledges from the government that they would soon be able to return home.
Tens of thousands of families – many now living with relatives elsewhere – have been unable to return and fix their homes in an area of Marawi that bore the brunt of the five-month fighting.
Families have 'suffered too long'
For mother-of-five Faridah Pagalad, it has been a miserable existence the past two years. She said she had thought that once the militants were defeated, she and her husband could try to begin anew
“The tent is too small for my family. My children are growing up and we have no privacy,” she said.
Drieza Lininding, chair of the Marawi-based Moro Consensus Group, said villagers “have suffered too long from being away from their properties” as a result of the siege that started on May 23, 2017.
“I feel sad that after almost two years we are still discussing issues like relief assistance and temporary shelters among others,” Lininding said.
“This only means we are still at a stage of initial responses, although we had our groundbreaking ceremony six months ago when they promised a new Marawi. That never took off,” he said.
He said many have become frustrated with the government because “it keeps issuing timelines” only to offer excuses later.
“As far as the rehabilitation phase is concerned, the government has failed us,” he said, warning that IS militants who escaped from Marawi and were now hiding in jungles could tap this anger among local residents to boost their ranks.
“That’s what we fear, because nobody could really say what’s in the mind of the still-displaced civilians, especially the youth,” he said.
Eduardo del Rosario, head of a government task force in charge of rehabilitating the city, told evacuees here on Tuesday that clearing operations would likely be finished by the end of August.
Troops, he said, were still carefully combing the debris to retrieve some 49 “general purpose” bombs that were dropped by the Air Force but did not explode.
"We are asking for your patience. We are asking for your support,” a teary-eyed del Rosario said, as he fended off calls for his resignation.