Residents returning to devastated Philippine city search for safety–and closure

World Today

The Philippine city of Marawi is recovering from a five-month-long battle between government forces and a pro-ISIL group.

The fighting killed more than 1,000 people. As CGTN’s Barnaby Lo reports, the battle may be over – but many dangers remain.

After approximately 150 days of fighting between the Philippine military and ISIL-linked militants, the heart of the southern city of Marawi is in ruins. Concrete structures are heavily damaged if not destroyed. Despite this, residents who fled the more than 20 villages here may eventually want to return. The army is making sure they can do so without endangering their lives.

“We now have our EOD teams, or our Explosives Ordinance teams, going around in these areas,” said Colonel Romeo Brawner, the deputy commander of Task Force Ranao. “They’ve divided the 24 barangays into sectors and they’re now clearing each sector one day at a time.”

It’s a slow, painstaking, and risky process. There’s no telling where militants could’ve left booby traps and how many explosives could still be lying around. Philippine military troops recovered dozens of dangerous devices in just one morning.

There is peril even after the defeat of the violent extremists who had dug in here. In fact, the danger may be greater as the militants attempt to regroup–a threat that’s clear and present, according to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

Last week, lawmakers granted Duterte’s request to extend martial rule in the entire Southern Philippine region until the end of 2018. Clearly, for the government, the fight isn’t over. Nor is it over for many of the survivors, though for different reasons.

“As long as there’s no corpse, I refuse to believe that he’s dead,” said Meljie Powao.

Her husband was working at a construction job in Marawi when the war broke out. She has not seen or heard from him since, but has been told by a fellow worker that her husband was among those taken hostage by the militants.

Now he is counted among the missing, leaving her, and the families of the others who disappeared, in limbo.

“The war is over but we still don’t know what really happened to our husbands,” said Alma Tome, the wife of another hostage. “I hope the government can help us get to the truth.”

Until she learns what happened to her husband, she said the war will never really end for her.