A CONFLICT does not happen in a vacuum. There will always be the fallout, where those in the fringes are sucked in and rendered just as vulnerable as the main victims of the conflict, like in Marawi. In different forms, not just people.
This was apparent in the Regional Advisory Council (RAC) Regional Meeting and Learning Session of the Foundation for Philippine Environment (FPE) held at the C-Tree Hotel in Matina, Davao City, last week.
"'Yong sa municipalities that surround the lake affected din sila dahil hindi makapagtanim (The municipalities that surround the lake are also affected because they can’t grow their crops)," said Amenodi Tanog Ali, who represents Lanao Province in the RAC.
"Ito yung oras ng pagtanim pero walang makapagtanim dahil martial law. So limited yung kanilang movements, baka mapagkamalan ka (This is the time for them to plant but cannot do so because it’s martial law. So their movements are limited, afraid of being mistaken)," Ali added.
Also affected are the fisher folk of the 16 other municipalities that surround Lake Lanao in Lanao del Sur. The province has 39 municipalities, of which 17 including Marawi City are on the lake's periphery.
"Hindi ka makatawid dahil kinikontrol na yan ng military. 'Yung mga motorized bangka hinuhuli nila kasi ginagamit rin ito ng (You can’t go around town because the military is controlling it. Motorized bancas are confiscated because Isis is using it) Isis to transport their reinforcement sa city," he added.
Then there is the culture of the Maranaos and the environmental situation in Marawi.
"All the 39 municipalities of Lanao del Sur are dependent on Marawi. The economic, political, and cultural thing of the Maranaos, dependent sa city mismo (is dependent on the city itself)," Ali said. "But it's damaged already."
He cannot imagine the artifacts that are all bombed to smithereens now if these have not been looted yet.
"Ang clamor ng mga tao is makita man lang ang kanilang bahay, ano ang laman noon para makasimula sila muli. Hindi mo naman maibalik what has been damaged (The people’s clamor is seeing their homes and what’s left so they can start again. You can’t bring back what has been damaged)," he added.
One does not even have to be an internally displaced person (IDP) to feel like they are. Just as Ali is a resident of Iligan City but now lives like an IDP.
While he used to work in Marawi before the conflict broke out on May 23, 2017, he already moved his family to Iligan many years ago so that the children will have better access to education and will grow in a more peaceful environment.
The family lives in a "housing." This means, it's a regular subdivision, not a grand mansion, not even on a 300-square meter lot. Just a tiny plot of land with a small house.
This same house now is home to 18 families, his relatives from Marawi.
"Siksikan. Ang hirap (It’s very crowded. It’s difficult)," he said.
Many families in Iligan are in the same situation, Ali said. While other IDPs remain in evacuation centers.
FPE executive director Oliver Agoncillo said it's apparent that the conflict in Marawi is being viewed at the moment only through the humanitarian lens, the need for relief assistance and rebuilding of the physical structures.
The focus is all about relief operations and the eventual rebuilding of the physical structures once the city is cleared of the terrorists.
"No one has processed as CSO (civil society organizations) in the context of environment and culture. Mas nakikita ang usapang human rights (Human rights issues are seed). Impact on the damage to resources will be a more long-term concern," Agoncillo said.
FPE is a non-government organization working for biodiversity conservation and sustainable development towards healthy ecosystems and resilient communities. Their consultation with their community-based advisers brought up the implication of the Marawi conflict to these communities and ecosystem.
Among the questions that have to be deliberated on are the effect of the devastation to the people's health, and even the most basic water supply.
"Sometimes naka-focus lang sa pagbibigay ng food, pero ang long term recovery hindi pa (Sometimes it’s focused on giving out food, but not on the long term recovery). The question is where do we take it from here?" Agoncillo asked.
Ali pointed out that even the Task Force Bangon Marawi has not yet been brought down to the community level. It is still with the Cabinet Secretaries and there was but one consultation with CSOs yet, by the executive director of the Task Force.
But mobilization is not that easy under Martial Law as their initiatives to convene people might be misconstrued to be something else, like maybe meeting to create more trouble.
"These are things na hindi nakikita sa labas na paghihirap sa martial law (that are unseen in martial law). 'Yung movement mo, yung mga assembly (Your movements, the assemblies) you have to gather in public places para hindi ka mapagkamalan (so you won’t be mistaken). Dito nagmi-meeting sa mga malalaking shops and malls sa Iligan City (This is where big shops and malls in Iligan City meet)," Ali said.
Combine this with the fact that the Task Force Bangon Marawi does not include a representative from the community itself except Presidential Adviser on Overseas Filipino workers and Muslim Concerns Abdullah Mama-o, there is reason to clamor.
"Suddenly, there is a rehabilitation plan. Is it fit to the culture and the people's need?" asked Dr. Lourdes Simpol, FPE chair and chief executive officer of FPE.
"Kasi, culture is resource-based rin (Culture is also resource-based), so if you destroy the environment, and the fact that hindi nga sila (the people) nasasama sa plano, anong mangyayari (people are not part of the plan, what will happen)?"
Indeed, in any conflict, there are no winners and this is not just about body count and the wounded. Rather, the wounds run deeper into the very psyche of the people, and yes, the environment they live in.
Published in the SunStar Davao newspaper on August 21, 2017.
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