Marawi: Heart of a Liberated Philippine City Lies in Ruins

Mark Navales, Jeoffrey Maitem and Richel V. Umel
2017.10.25
Marawi, Philippines
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The minaret of a mosque looms above the ruins in Marawi, Oct. 25, 2017. [Mark Navales/BenarNews]

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The former war zone in Marawi is closed off to civilians as accredited personnel help the Philippine army with clean-up operations in the city, Oct. 25, 2017. [Richel V. Umel/BenarNews]

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A soldier inspects a dugout in the old Marawi war zone for any improvised explosives, Oct. 25, 2017. [Richel V. Umel/BenarNews]

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The damaged Bato Ali Mosque, where a Catholic priest and four other civilians were held hostage by IS-backed militants during the siege of Marawi, stands in the city’s downtown area, Oct. 25, 2017. [Jeoffrey Maitem/BenarNews]

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A Philippine soldier stands guard in a damaged section of Marawi, Oct. 25, 2017. [Jeoffrey Maitem/BenarNews]

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Another damaged mosque is seen from inside a building in Marawi, Oct. 25, 2017. [Mark Navales/BenarNews]

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A military escort surveys damage from inside the shell of a building in Marawi, Oct. 25, 2017. [Mark Navales/BenarNews]

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A military truck is seen near a destroyed mosque and minaret in Marawi, Oct. 25, 2017. [Richel V. Umel/BenarNews]

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Lake Marawi appears in the distance behind the bombed-out skyline of Marawi, Oct. 25, 2017. [Jeoffrey Maitem/BenarNews]

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Members of the Philippine military’s Special Operations command take part in their sending-off ceremony at the 103rd Infantry Brigade headquarters in Marawi, Oct. 25, 2017. [Mark Navales/BenarNews]

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Phillipine soldiers stand at attention during a sending-off ceremony in Marawi, Oct. 25, 2017. [Mark Navales/BenarNews]

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Soldiers board a truck as they leave Marawi, Oct. 25, 2017. [Mark Navales/BenarNews]

Philippine authorities on Wednesday granted BenarNews photographers access into Marawi’s downtown area and commercial district – a war zone until two days ago when the government declared the southern city liberated from a siege by Islamic State-backed militants.

At the same time, Philippine special forces members said goodbye to Marawi during a sending-off ceremony.

Inside the former war zone, BenarNews photographers found once beautiful homes reduced to craters, along with pock-marked structures of gnarled metal and blackened walls.

A Philippine flag placed by troops on a structure provided the only color in an otherwise monotonous gray landscape. A leafless tree was the only clue that downtown Marawi was once full of life. Nearby, a small mosque stood, its main dome and turrets heavily scarred.

The siege, launched on May 23 by Isnilon Hapilon, the Philippine leader of the Southeast Asian branch of IS, and other top militants was the first takeover of a city in East Asia by the Middle East-based extremist group. Hapilon and other extremist leaders were killed toward the end of the battle.

During the five months of fighting, the Philippine military leveled much of Marawi through aerial bombing as it went after the militants who torched and pillaged entire communities within the predominantly Muslim city of 200,000 people. The violence emptied the city, which remains off limits to civilians as the military conducts mopping-up operations.

More than 1,000 people were killed in the five-month battle. Among the dead were about 920 militants, 165 members of the Philippine armed forces and 47 civilians, authorities said.

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