The war in Marawi in the Philippines is not over. It has just begun.
The persistence of violence is less about the continuing threat of ISIS and more about the uncertainty, insecurity, displacement and discrimination that linger in the hearts and minds of the Maranao, of which 'maratabat' – or their honour, pride and dignity – is a crucial part.
The rebuilding that’s taking place neglects the rebuilding of relationships frayed or destroyed by violence. A year after the carnage, communities remain torn and divided, families face diminished economic capacity, and people are suspicious and distrustful of local authority.
These fissures in fragile relationships invite extremist violence. The threat posed by foreign terrorists is only to be feared if these groups can tap into the sorrow and grief that people feel and lure the youth into the path of violent extremism.
They also point to the dismal conditions that helped shape the war at the outset:
- The poverty and inequality that continues to plague Muslim Mindanao;
- The discrimination that continues to exclude our Muslim brothers and sisters from harnessing the socio-economic and political opportunities that everyone else enjoys; and
- The continued delays in institutionalising genuine autonomy, self-governance and devolved political authority for the Bangsamoro people.
It is imperative that we move forward and start the rebuilding of Marawi by placing agency in the hands of local citizens who are at the core of the rehabilitation process. We need to remember and build upon the many instances when ordinary people fought against terror, rescued the vulnerable, and generously shared their food and resources at the height of the crisis.
Let us remember 23 May 2017 not only for its violence and destruction, but also for the humanity that shines through the bravery, generosity and faith of the great People of the Lake.