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For Philippine Muslims, Marawi Has Turned into a City of Broken Dreams

Froilan Gallardo, Richel V. Umel and Felipe Villamor
Marawi, Philippines
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More than five months after a brutal war pounded the southern Philippine city of Marawi, images of the violence haunt the city’s residents.

The Philippine military wrested the city back from pro-Islamic State (IS) militants in October 2017 after ferocious fighting forced about 200,000 residents of the city to flee their homes. As many as 1,200 people – mostly militants – died in a five-month battle that left the city in ruins, Philippine officials said.

Marawi – the only predominantly Muslim city in a Catholic country – has become a virtual ghost town of abandoned buildings; its main highway cratered by bombs and mortars.

Around the neighborhood, people walked in a daze as they dug through rubble for salvageable belongings. Many took metal and other items they could turn into cash at the junkyard.

Posters that warned residents of possible unexploded bombs among the debris hung prominently in lifeless tree stumps. There was an eerie silence as BenarNews reporters observed a crowd of returnees trudging through the debris. The smell of death and decay was in the air.

“We are expecting more bodies to recover. Civilians are returning to their homes and we expect to get calls of more skeletons to be found,” said Capt. Rowalde Camero, commandant of the 500th Engineer Combat Battalion, which is part of the clearing team.

“It is tough for the people,” Camero said. “Imagine finding your destroyed house like that and seeing that people died.”

A tattered Philippine flag flew on the rooftop of Marawi’s grand mosque as loudspeakers aired the 3 o’clock call to prayer.

The hymn provided a sense of serenity to the wrecked place.

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