Sunio: Why Meranaws say no to Ecozone in Marawi

AN ECOZONE to expedite Marawi City’s rehabilitation efforts is indeed an ideal option. Oppositions for the proposal had, however, risen, including the building of a military camp.

However, building an ecozone was just “a proposal” from the Philippine Economic Zone Authority, according to Task Force Bangon Marawi housing czar Eduardo del Rosario. Del Rosario said that the building of an ecozone cannot be imposed bythe Task Force, according to reports.

CNN Philippines, in a report, defines an ecozone as “an area with highly developed or which have the potential to be developed into agri-industrial, industrial, tourist, recreational, commercial, banking, investment, or financial centers,” quoting the Special Economic Act of 1995.

Planting businesses and employment opportunities in Marawi would be in the best interest of residents who have lost homes, businesses, and other properties. It would be a sustainable solution to aiding to the recovery of the internally-displaced persons (IDPs) financially, and to the high poverty rates in Lanao del Sur as a whole, which had been a persistent problem even before the war.

With the vast Lake Lanao, the City can open opportunities for tourism, agricultural, and fisheries. A cruise around the second largest fresh water lake in the Country would indeed be delightful. People would pay for such leisure.

However, Meranaw-led group Ranaw Multisectoral Movement, on March 29, wrote an appeal against the building of an ecozone and Military camps in the City.

Marawi City prides itself for being an Islamic City where the Meranaw culture and traditions are intact. The very land they occupy has deep ancestral significance, to most. Establishing an ecozone on the land that had just been pummeled from the war where homes used to stand would sound devastating to local residents.

The Meranaws also pride themselves for winning war after war several years ago ago, holding centuries of Meranaw history and glory. One of its most historical stand was the Defense of Marawi in 1891 to 1895 led by Datu Amai Pakpak against colonialism.If a foreign entity is to plant itself on the groundsthat the inhabitants deem as historical and sacred, or maybe on a land where an acquaintance’s house used to stand, how do you think would they feel?

The residents also want to maintain the City’s ‘pride and dignity’ as an Islamic City after the war. This includes the preservation of the City’ sacredness. Even the Lake Lanao itself holds religious significance. Many mosques are built near the lake so people who are going to pray can perform ablution or washing of hands and feet in the riverbank before praying. For them, threats against their culture and religion loom.

Conflicts of Meranaw against non-Meranaws have made them sensitive to issues about foreign or outside entities who will occupy their homeland, regardless of the purpose. Most residents display defense mechanism about the issue while most think that the land where their homes used to stand will be the lot to used to build the ecozone.

Considering the worries of the residents over their loss in the siege, and cultural, religious, and historical significance the people hold dear for the City, local businesses for the Meranaws is a better option for rehabilitation efforts. Instead of the introduction of foreign big ones, local businesses owned by their tribe members held less threat to these people.

Years ago, because of the strong desire of some Meranaws to protect their culture, territory, and homeland, there were measures initiated by some residents to drive away loggers around the Lake Lanao. They felt that the loggers threatened the ecological health of Lanao del Sur and that they may have breached certain cultural and religious beliefs.

These arguments are from the point of view of a non-Meranaw resident of Marawi City. I will, perhaps, write a story about entry of non-Meranaw businesses in Marawi City, with interviews from Muslim scholars who are authorities on the fields of Political Science, Sociology, and Economics.

For now, it is essential to understand that it is not that the Meranaws want nothing to do with non-Meranaws. It’s just that cultural and religious factors hangs in the balance of these propositions.

Finally, we also have to consider the matter in the point-of-view of a war victim who has recently lost almost all he or she had worked for because of terrorism. These people have had enough intrusion during the war that decisions to occupy their land for other purposes other than rebuilding their homes is a sensitive topic for them. Most of them still have not even been given assurance of a home rebuilt for them.
The Meranaws suggestions and feedbacks about rebuilding their city should also be given more consideration so that they would not feel left behind. Cultural and historical significance should be given attention to as well.
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