After Philippines' 2017 ISIS War, Marawi Remains Wrecked The city has a rich heritage of buildings and mosques. Today, the battle scars are as prominent as ever and residents displaced by the conflict complain about the sluggish reconstruction.

The Philippines' Marawi City Remains Wrecked Nearly 2 Years After ISIS War

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We have an update now from one corner of ISIS. It's a spot thousands of miles from Iraq and Syria, where the group originated and once controlled a lot of territory. Militants in the southern Philippines claimed allegiance to ISIS and moved into the city of Marawi in 2017. It took a five-month siege before government troops expelled them.

Two years later, the city remains under martial law and is covered by the scars of war. NPR's Julie McCarthy visited.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Many of Marawi's 200,000 residents have returned home since the fighting emptied the city and left hundreds dead. Eleven thousand families are scattered across the country, living with relatives.


MCCARTHY: Hundreds more displaced families live in one of three tent cities. The unofficial leader of this camp, Olowan Magarang, escorts me through its muddy lanes. A steady drizzle falls. Children, seeming oblivious to the misery, are everywhere. Olowan,

how many families are here?

OLOWAN MAGARANG: We have 218 families, more than 1,000 people. (Foreign language spoken).

MCCARTHY: And for those 1,000 people, Olowan says there are just nine toilets, which are hard to keep clean because he says often, there is no water.

O MAGARANG: (Foreign language spoken).

MCCARTHY: "It's worse when it rains," he says, "because the track leading to the camp is slippery." And the drivers tanking in the water are afraid of the roads, so they don't come in.

Olowan has lived in this camp since it opened. He recalls the moment in May 2017 when he fled his home. It was two days into the siege.

O MAGARANG: (Foreign language spoken).

MCCARTHY: "I spotted ISIS fighters with high-caliber weapons moving up my brother's four-story house," he says. Olowan's home is in ground zero, the epicenter of the fight, built after toiling 15 years as a medical tech in Saudi Arabia. He saw the ruins last August.

O MAGARANG: (Foreign language spoken).

MCCARTHY: "I couldn't even recognize it. The second floor is destroyed. It has no roof or walls. I will renovate," he says, "as long as I have money." At 61, Olowan is having to start life over. He's grateful that the government retrained him as a carpenter, but he cannot find work and worries it's too late.

O MAGARANG: (Foreign language spoken).

MCCARTHY: "I am old," he breaks down. "How am I going to provide for my family or put my children through school? We've lost everything."

His wife, Rohayna, 52, steps from their mosquito-infested tent and tells us their lives are endangered here with no security.

ROHAYNA MAGARANG: (Foreign language spoken).

MCCARTHY: "It's worse than feeling abandoned," she says.

R MAGARANG: (Through interpreter) The children are always crying because there's not enough to eat. The $1,400 of government assistance is all spent. Are we waiting here to just die off? In truth, I have a bad heart. We can't live here much longer.

MCCARTHY: Refugees like her want to know when they can go home to rebuild. It won't be anytime soon, judging from a rare tour that authorities gave NPR of Marawi's worst-affected area.

Two years on, very little has been cleared from here, and the evidence of the fighting is everywhere. Houses are blown to bits. Huge buildings are decimated, and the frames of what's left are silhouetted against a darkening sky.


MCCARTHY: Clearing the debris of the battle has moved at a glacial pace. Authorities blame confusion caused by the many competing claims to property. The clearing of unexploded ordnance, which also looks lackadaisical, has slowed reconstruction.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Eduardo Del Rosario says ground realities create delays.

EDUARDO DEL ROSARIO: You see, there are so many challenges. We have to ensure that when they go back there - 6,000 owners - that they will be residing in the right location, and 55% do not have titles.

MCCARTHY: Much of the city appears bustling, despite martial law. And while there is discontent, it sits alongside resilience. Olowan Magarang, who's seen everything he owns destroyed, visibly brightens over a new oven that occupies the center of the family tent.

O MAGARANG: (Foreign language spoken).

MCCARTHY: If he can't be a carpenter, he says he'll use the oven donated by the government to bake and sell cakes. Olowan doesn't bake. He says he'll go around and ask people how to make things.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Marawi.


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