Healing is true liberation: Rehabilitation and recovery in Marawi, Philippines

A crucial aspect of Marawi’s rehabilitation and recovery is rebuilding trust, relationships, and community alongside addressing emerging and enduring drivers of violence. Without an approach to address these, the damage, destruction, and human costs of the Marawi siege on communities could lead to a morphing or reversal of roles where victims and their families exact revenge, further enabling cycles of violence to continue and worsen. The collective trauma from the Marawi war runs deep and is exacerbated by an excruciatingly slow rehabilitation process.

Dansalan College building on the second day of Marawi siege in 2017
Dansalan College building on the second day of Marawi siege in 2017. © Dansalan College Foundation

Educators in Marawi, Philippines have an important role in addressing this collective trauma and repairing relationships, because we are part of the community deeply wounded by cycles of violent conflict. We directly influence the youth, a vulnerable demographic to violent extremism.

The Dansalan College Foundation, Inc. was one of the first structures attacked and set ablaze by the Islamic State (IS)-linked Dawlah Islamiya on May 23, 2017. Eleven teachers were held hostage for days without food and water. The institution that for more than 60 years was home to interfaith engagement and peaceful coexistence remains under the rubble, frozen in time and empty without its students and teachers, almost five years since the war.

Dansalan is the oldest and the first Christian school at the heart of the Islamic City of Marawi. It has schooled members of Lanao del Sur’s powerful clans, produced vocal activists—and also some of the most influential strongmen and politicians in the region. The school represents the peaceful coexistence across faiths and identities that has defined Marawi.

Dansalan itself is trying to heal and rebuild. The day teachers can go home to Marawi and open its doors to its students again beacons the collective healing process needed for the city to move forward and be truly liberated. After all, liberation is not just about freedom from terrorist groups. It is also the freedom to move forward and build a future that represents the collective dreams and aspirations of a healed and united people.

As educators, we remain hopeful in our students because they are the future. We joined other stakeholders and formed the Marawi Reconstruction Conflict Watch (MRCW) because our responsibility as teachers is to ensure that that future is protected. We channeled this through the MRCW, voicing out and bringing attention to the grievances and aspirations of the internally displaced and pushing for measures like the passage of the Marawi compensation bill. By speaking truth to power, we bring to life the ideals we teach our students.

As we commemorate Marawi Liberation Day for the fourth time, we remind our leaders that liberation does not end with removing IS-linked terrorist groups. True liberation is only achieved when we, Marawi siege victims, are able to go back home, resume our lives, and collectively start a process that enables forgiveness and reintegration. We can say we have truly been liberated when, above all, relationships within and between peoples that have been torn apart by conflict have been restored, and deep disappointment over how our leaders handled the rehabilitation process is replaced by a restoration of trust and harmony.

This op-ed was originally published on the Philippine Daily Inquirer.