Progress 'slow' in Marawi one year after IS was defeated in the city


It’s the first anniversary of the end of the siege in Marawi. But, a humanitarian crisis and the Australian military remain in the Philippines

In Marawi, life is slowly returning to normal.

The charity CARE is running rehabilitation workshops for families who are set to return home a year after their city became a battle zone.

CARE Project Coordinator Janerah Abdulmoin was in Marawi the day the battle began.

“I was having my class with my students discussing, and then suddenly, we hear helicopters and guns and all the explosions,” she told SBS News.

“I was so afraid because that was the first time I experienced a crisis in Marawi city.”

The five-month armed conflict left Marawi city in ruins.
The five-month armed conflict left Marawi city in ruins.

A small confrontation between government forces and IS-linked militants turned into a full-scale insurgency.

About 98 per cent of Marawi City, some 200,000 people, fled the city.

Ms Abdulmoin was among them.

“We fled and we met some of those IS-influenced groups along the highway,” she said.

“My mother was so afraid because she was thinking this group of people was going to rape me.”

CARE's Janerah Abdulmoin spoke to SBS News via Skype
CARE's Janerah Abdulmoin spoke to SBS News via Skype
SBS News

Marawi was under siege for five months as the insurgents embedded themselves in the city.

The island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines is predominately Muslim.

Most of them fought to the death as the Philippine military pounded the city with artillery and other explosives.

Last October, with about 1000 people killed and the city badly damaged, the government declared victory.

100,000 still displaced

“In that sense, it was a victory. But, in a larger sense, the victory was definitely limited," visiting fellow at the Australian National University Steven Rood said. 

"In the first place, you have all these people who are still disgruntled.

“Secondly, Marawi city was the centre of commerce for that entire area and that commerce was disrupted.”

Mr Rood has lived in the Philippines for the last few decades and said the decimation of the city left some residents angry.

ANU Fellow Steven Rood has lived in the Philippines for decades
ANU Fellow Steven Rood has lived in the Philippines for decades
SBS News

“They tend to actually blame the government for all of the destruction because of the use of artillery and air bombardment.”

A year after the battle, the United Nations estimates about 100,000 people are still displaced on the island of Mindanao.

“The other regions, they accepted these people, they welcomed these people. But, later on, these people felt the Maranoans [ethnic residents of Mindanao] are staying longer and longer in their city,” Janerah Abdulmoin said.

She and other aid agencies are aware of reports that internal refugees are resorting to desperate measures.

“Because of the poverty being encountered by some of the IDPs [Internally Displaced Persons], they were open to letting some of their young children be married.”

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs has provided $24 million to recovery efforts in Marawi.

Australian soldiers still in the Philippines

As well as the lingering humanitarian crisis, the Australian Defence Force is also in the Philippines.

Australian spy planes flew over the city during the battle.

Now, about 100 ADF personnel are based in the Philippines training their local counterparts in urban warfare.

A soldier at the Villamor Airbase in Pasay City.
A soldier at the Villamor Airbase in Pasay City.

“To date, we've trained over 4500 Philippines army and marine personnel," Lieutenant Colonel Judd Finger said this month.

“We provide urban operations training courses in the land environment which provide the building blocks for a military force to fight in another Marawi-style event.”

And, that training may be put to use sooner rather than later, ANU Fellow Steven Rood said.

“Islamic State in the Middle East has proved very resilient over the years and their affiliates are trying to imitate that in their resilience,” he said.

“[They want] to retreat and remain until they’re in a position to come back again.”

Janerah Abdulmoin says Marawi's residents are trying to be patient, even though the government won't let them return to their homes in the battle zone.

"It's a slow movement," she said.

"We can walk, we can talk, we can practise what we practised before but not inside ground zero."

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