Fri, 22 Sep 2023

THE QUIET lakeside city of Marawi in Lanao del Sur became known to the larger Filipino population for an unfortunate reason: On May 23, 2017, fighting broke out between the military and the ISIS-aligned Maute terror group, forcing civilians to flee their homes and livelihoods. Military airstrikes and counterattacks from the terrorists leveled the city, reducing significant landmarks and residential homes to rubble.

National media was quick to cover the conflict, at the time largely depending on military briefings. The military's dominance over the flow of information meant there was a lack of coverage of the Marawi siege as a human rights issue. In a CMFR forum, journalists themselves admitted that they fell short in producing stories from the lens of affected individuals and civil society groups who had more knowledge about Marawi and Maranaos.

Two Dates

Since then, the press marked two dates for yearly coverage: the date the siege started, and the date that then President Duterte declared the "liberation" of the city from the Maute group - October 17, 2017.

With the fighting over, reporters naturally followed the rehabilitation efforts for the city, noting delays as necessary and the prolonged agony of Marawi residents. But national media's interest in revisiting the site and checking progress on rebuilding continues to dwindle. CMFR noted than in October 2022, only Jeff Canoy of ABS-CBN returned to report from Marawi grounds, checking the plight of displaced residents who still live in temporary shelters as well as the delay in the appointment of members of the Marawi Compensation Board (MCB), an agency established by the Duterte administration to assess and provide for reparation and compensation for civilian losses, including life and property. President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. has since inherited the responsibility for making the appointments.

Different Track

On the commemoration of the sixth year of the siege, reports in Manila-based print and online outfits mostly picked up the MCB's signing of the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the Marawi Siege Victims Compensation Act of 2022 in a ceremony in the city's Rizal Park. Pursuing up a different track, Manila Standard carried updates from government officials concerning security improvement and cooperation to ensure that a siege won't happen again.

For broadcast, ABS-CBN's TV Patrol and GMA-7's Unang Balita both carried features on fallen police and soldiers of the Marawi siege, and the families they left behind. CNN Philippines' News Night carried the IRR signing, while TV5 had no report for the sixth commemoration year.

Transitional Justice

Only The Manila Times and Daily Tribune picked up statements from civil society organizations and networks of survivors and displaced residents, who all called for transitional justice. The groups' call includes not only a dignified return to their homes but also the resolution of land disputes and dispossession. They also called for an accounting of the expenses for rehabilitation since 2017.

Media themselves can take the lead in pursuing these unresolved issues. But this year's commemoration of the Marawi siege did not elicit much enthusiasm from newsrooms. Some news accounts had already flagged Marcos' seemingly low priority for Mindanao and peace issues, including the Bangsamoro transition. It would be a shame for the press to show the same lack of urgency and interest.

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