Four years since the 2017 siege of Marawi City by followers of the international jihadist group Islamic State, many structures have risen in the city center flattened by bombs. However, rehabilitation remained unfinished and thousands of residents were still unable to return to their land.
As the deadline of Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM) nears — moved from December 2021 to June 2022 — the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) worked with photojournalist BALTAZAR "BOBBY" LAGSA to show construction activities in the former battle area and interview residents who have returned.
Lagsa's pictures showed uneven progress of work in the nine different sectors of Marawi's city center, which was most affected by the battles in 2017.
TFBM, the government agency on top of the rehabilitation work, in October said the rehabilitation of Marawi's public infrastructure was 75% to 80% complete. These photos were taken that month.
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A resident was allowed to open his welding shop in Sector 1 of the former battle area.
Mapandi Bridge, which saw fierce battles between the military and the militants, was among the first structures the government rebuilt. However, many houses that lined up the street at the mouth of the bridge remained untouched. The walls were still pockmarked with shrapnel and littered with bullet holes.
Sectors 1, 2, and 3 are considered least affected by the battles in 2017. Hundreds of residents had been allowed to retun to their land in these sectors.
Nature had taken over many abandoned structures in Sector 2.
Many residents were able to return to their land in Sector 3.
Among them was Mohammed Gondarangin, who had began rebuilding his home in Brgy. Dagubduban. It took him two years to complete TFBM's documentary requirements to get a permit to build.
Gondarangin hoped the government would pay residents compensation for the destruction of their properties. The "Marawi Compensation Bill" is pending before Congress.
Brothers Salman and Nassef Candidato, residents of Brgy. Tulali in Sector 3, were also able to return to their land. They found jobs as construction workers in the former battle area.
Lilang Ibrahim and fellow teachers at the Datu Macaorao Primary School were able to persuade their students' parents to contribute P200 (about $4) for the repair of at least two classrooms and the construction of armchairs for students. Before the siege, the school served up to 200 pupils from Grades 1 to 3. Ibrahim said they were still waiting for the Department of Education to start the reconstruction of the school.
Automotive mechanic Saidimen Macondara, a resident of Brgy. Tolali, took a loan of P75,000 to build a shop where his house used to stand. Lagsa found him fixing his own car – his way of advertising his business to his neighbors – although he said he still didn't have all the automative tools he needed to fix vehicles.
The iconic Grand Mosque, which was occupied by leaders of the Abu Sayyaf Group and Maute Group during the siege, looked grand again. The towering structure that sat on 2,000 square meters of land had served as the symbol of the Islamic City, a historical landmark that was always a part of the itinerary of foreign ministers and ambassadors from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation when they visited the city.
TFBM highlighted the reconstruction of the mosque in October, when journalists were invited to the former battle area to check the progress of the rehabilitation of the city.
The museum was 91.55% finished, according to TFBM Field Office manager Assistant Secretary Felix Castro Jr. The minaret of the former Bato Mosque, which the militant leaders used as command base, was transferred in front of the museum.
The Saint Mary's Parish Church, where the late Catholic priest Chito Soganub was taken by the militants on May 23, 2017, remained untouched. But many structures around the are were in advanced stages of construction.
Nature had also taken over many abandoned structures in Sector 6. Residents had yet to be allowed to rebuild their homes in the area, according to civic leader and Marawi resident Drieza Lininding.
Amerol Usman Salic, a former team leader of the Marawi City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office, was inspecting a construction project for a company he now works for when Lagsa met him inside the former battle area. Salic found a job as an occupational safety officer after he left his government post.
Salic said his house on the banks of Lake Lanao was completely demolished. He was afraid he would not be allowed to return because the city government said the reclaimed land is government property.
Sector 8, where the heart of the city center was located, was also the focus of construction activities inside the battle area.
TFBM's Castro said the status of projects as of November 2021 were the following:
Padian — 73.8%
Peace Memorial Park — 83.7%
School of Living Tradition — 94.78%
Barangay Complexes — 74.11%
City Command Center — 68.28%
Lake Lanao Promenade — 23.48%
Residents of Sector 9 on the banks of Lake Lanao had yet to begin the process of applying for permits to build, according to Lininding, who owns a property in the area.
TFBM said it would complete the rehabilitation of the former battle area before President Rodrigo Duterte steps down in June 2022. — with additional reporting by Carmela Fonbuena
*All photos were taken on October 21 and 22, 2021