Hunger hangs over the heads of around 230,000 “bakwits” of Marawi City, Lanao del Sur, like the “Sword of Damocles” as food supply is falling.
On the first anniversary on May 23 this year of the Marawi siege that killed over 1,100 people — civilians, soldiers, and ISIS-allied extremists — the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported that food donations are falling.
The reason cited by the ICRC is the transition in addressing the aftermath of the internecine war.
A neutral, impartial and independent humanitarian organization, ICRC’s exclusively humanitarian mission is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of armed conflict and other situations of violence and to provide them with assistance. It has an international mandate to promote knowledge for and respect of international humanitarian law.
The “bakwits” — the vast majority of them Muslims, but doubtless with many Christians — are still displaced and continue to long for home and their regular life. How bitter is that?
Marawi is one of the two cities of Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the other being Lamitan, Basilan.
The ARMM is comprised of the provinces of Basilan, Lanao del Sur. Maguindanao, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi.
The ICRC delegation in the Philippines through Pascal Porchet, head, cited the need for intensified measures to help the evacuees, or internally displaced persons (IDPs), or “bakwits” (evacuees) in Moro/Mindanao dialect.
“Efforts to rehabilitate Marawi and assist its people must be stepped up to reduce the suffering of thousands of those who were displaced over the past year,” he said.
Pochet noted that efforts are not absent, but they do not equal the increasing needs of the affected residents who continue to “face prolonged displacement and closed to despair.”
The ICRC head of delegation in the Philippines said the response has shifted to early recovery from emergency phase, but the change resulted in the scarcity of food donations while livelihood opportunities are reaching only a few.
” Majority of displaced families still depend on relatives or friends for support, while those in evacuation sites continue to struggle with poor living conditions in makeshift camps, increasing their risk of illness,” he pointed out.
The ICRC cited some “bakwits” sentiments about their continued displacement.
“It has been a year since the armed clashes began and we still don’t know what lies ahead. I’m starting to feel the weight of it, and there are times when I feel like giving up. But for the sake of my children, I strive to stay strong,” said Diane Sumangan, an evacuee in Saguiaran. She is a resident of Bubonga Marawi, one of the 24 villages in the main area affected by the clashes.
Among the litany of the problems of the “bakwits” include how can they feed their children, buy medicines, or even revive their small businesses as livelihood opportunities and capital are simply not available with their condition, said the ICRC delegation head. “Uncertainty about the future has added to their worries,” said Porchet.
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The ICRC quoted estimates made by authorities that 65,000 residents of the main battleground area with its structures laid to rubble will not be able to return home for the coming three years.
Only 6,000 of the 65,000 can be accommodated at the transitional site in Sagonsongan, Marawi City, it added.
If it’s any consolation, the ICRC is not about to abandon the hapless “bakwits.”
“The ICRC remains committed to supporting those who fled the fighting, and to do more by addressing gaps in the overall early recovery response, in coordination with the authorities and other aid organizations,” said Porchet.
On the other hand, he said the key role in addressing the thousands displaced lies with the government.
“But, it is primarily the authorities’ role to assist people affected by conflict. The pending issues concerning the transitional site such as lack of regular supply of water and absence of proper sewage collection and treatment should be resolved soon,” he emphasized.
This is not to mention the missing persons because of the fighting that broke out after the ISIS-affiliated Maute Group and Abu Sayyaf Group terrorists attempted to make Marawi a foothold of their “caliphate” in Mindanao.
The ICRC assured that it is really concerned about the pain felt by people whose loved ones are still missing, adding it is collaborating with the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) in following up the cases of over 100 families to unearth (no pun intended) the whereabouts of their missing kin.
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“We are stepping up efforts to accompany and support these families. There is a need for a neutral and independent organization such as the Red Cross to work in this field.
We encourage those with information about missing people in Marawi to approach the Red Cross,” said Adriana Uribe Villa, who leads the ICRC’s response in Marawi.
She said the ICRC continues to support the Management of the Dead and Missing Cluster since the start of the crisis for the retrieval, management, and identification of human remains.
The ICRC and the PRC have been in tandem in providing aid to the thousands affected by the Marawi tragedy.