A year ago this month, the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, declared victory over Islamic State-linked militants in a battle for the city of Marawi in the south of the country.
On 23 May 2017, militants belonging to the Maute group, an affiliate of Islamic State, had taken over Marawi. In the subsequent five months of fighting between the militants and government forces, 40 per cent of the city was destroyed and 98 per cent of the population displaced. Militants entered homes and set buildings on fire, including a cathedral and a Protestant-run college.
They also took over a dozen Christians hostage, including a Catholic priest, as Christians were a particular target for the extremists, according to Christian charity Open Doors International.
Marking the first anniversary of the liberation of the city, local Catholic and Muslim leaders said that the war brought the two communities closer because of the “mutual feeling of having gone through the same struggle”, Catholic news agency UCAN reported.
Even now, many Marawi residents have not yet returned home, as the heart of Marawi is dominated by rubble. Some homes and businesses on the outskirts appear to be intact, but bear the scars of war. Their gates and walls are punctured by bullet holes and are marked by crude army graffiti: “X” stands for “ISIS was present”. “XX” means the “presence of weapons or bombs”. The rebuilding of the city is estimated to cost at least US$ 1 billion.
Catholic priest Fr. Torres said that the Catholic prelature in Marawi is helping both Christian and Muslim communities with shelters and food.
“Even if the extremists try to ‘clean’ Marawi of Christians, Marawi will always have a Christian population,” he said.
According to Fr. Torres, around 75 Christian families live in temporary shelters around the city and the prelature is currently hosting over 35,000 Catholics.
The government aims to complete the rehabilitation of the city – which starts this month – by the fourth quarter of 2021. The first stage will include clearing of debris.
Source: World Watch Monitor