Saturday, May 25, 2019

Unseen Scars

From the Business Mirror (May 26, 2019): Unseen Scars

ICRC reports ‘frustration’ of displaced residents two years after Marawi siege

Relatives of soldiers who were killed in the siege of Marawi City in southern Philippines by the Islamic State group-aligned fighters prepare to lay white roses at the Marawi Memorial pylon to commemorate its second anniversary on May 23, 2019, at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in Taguig City. The May 23 siege that troops crushed in October 2017 killed more than 1,100 mostly militants and displaced hundreds of thousands of Muslim Filipinos.

DAVAO CITY—The government’s failure to hasten rehabilitation work in the war-damaged Marawi two years after terrorists laid siege to the once-majestic city has continued to fuel frustration among the survivors, made worse by the promise of President Duterte that they will be on the priority list of his administration, a neutral aid organization has said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said more than 100,000 former residents “still have no homes to return to.”

Hijab-clad female soldiers prepare to lay flowers at the Marawi Memorial pylon at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in Taguig City on May 23, 2019.

“The deep scars left by the 2017 conflict in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur, in southern Philippines, continue to haunt over 100,000 people who still do not have a home to return to,” it said.

“Despite the numerous aid efforts that have truly helped those in need over the two years, the people of Marawi have grown tired and frustrated. They want to stand on their own feet again and stop depending on assistance,” said Martin Thalmann, head of the ICRC delegation in the Philippines.

The complications—whether they have been living with relatives, or are in evacuation centers and transition sites—would include the daily struggle for access to potable water, viable livelihood opportunities and most important, permanent shelters, the ICRC said.

Thalmann noted, though, that authorities “were trying to address complex issues so that the rehabilitation of the most affected area (MAA) could begin ”although organizations of evacuees and Maranao leaders have pointed out the visible inaction by the government to show that they were indeed combing the battle area for unexploded ordnances.”

The tall grasses alone in the MAA are proof enough that the area has not been checked or visited by any human, Maranao leaders said. Housing czar Eduardo del Rosario has cited the unexploded bombs as the main reason preventing former residents from returning to the MAA to rebuild homes.

Relatives and friends of fallen soldiers who saw action during the terrorist siege in Marawi two years ago offer flowers and candles at a wreath-laying ceremony at the Libingan ng mga Bayani led by Commander Joint Task Force Marawi Rolando Bautista and Lt. Gen. Macairog Alberto AFP (both not in photo).

Invisible scars

The conflict has left more vulnerable groups, such as families of missing people and victims of violence, with “invisible” scars, the ICRC said.

“The wounds that do not bleed are the wounds that become scars. And these are the most painful because they will always leave something to look at. Something that will always bring back memories of what happened. Nevertheless, it is still important because it is still a lesson,” recalled “Mel” (not his real name), a 34-year-old resident who was severely traumatized by the Marawi conflict.

The ICRC said it launched in October last year the mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) program and disclosed that it has reached close to 700 people. “Among them, 47 people were severely traumatized in the Marawi conflict, including Mel, who reported feeling relieved, comfortable, safe and understood after undergoing individual MHPSS sessions.”

“They need sustained support to recover mentally from the trauma caused by the conflict that has affected their overall well-being,” Thalmann said.

Thalmann said the ICRC would work on “strengthening the capacity of the public health system in the area of psychosocial support to victims of violence.”

The ICRC said its partnership with the Philippine Red Cross has supported displaced residents, with 63,000 of them from Marawi City and 11 other towns of Lanao del Sur provided with food and other essential household items.

Some 13,000 evacuees were given cash grants to start their livelihood and to cover basic family needs, and 3,000 evacuees were also provided with starter vegetable seed kits.

The ICRC said it also covered the cost of medical treatment of persons who were injured during the fighting, and those with physical disabilities as a result of injuries received prosthesis and physiotherapy. It has also been working with families whose loved ones went missing due to the conflict.

“We have been filling the gaps in the recovery response in coordination with the authorities and other aid organizations. But we can only do so much. The authorities still have the primary responsibility of providing sustainable solutions to help the people of Marawi,” Thalmann said.

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