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PRIVILEGE SPEECH: Passage of an IDP Rights Bill must be a priority

(Privilege speech delivered by Rep. Ziaur-Rahman ‘Zia’ Alonto Adiong of the 1st district of Lanao del Sur at the House of Representatives on Monday, 15 August 2022)

Assalamu’alaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh. 

Our lives are linked in a way that makes us responsible for one another. Despite having been born and raised in Mindanao, in Marawi City, I know that the life I now have is not merely of my own making. To be Muslim and Meranao in the Philippines – to be a Bangsamoro – is to live in a country defined by diversity and its attempts at embracing it. 

We are all responsible for one another. 

When Taal Volcano erupted in 2020, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Regional Government in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) immediately deployed a relief mission to help those who have been displaced across Batangas. With a history that intimately knows the struggle of being displaced from one’s home, the BARMM did not hesitate in sending aid and relief to those who needed it the most. 

In Lipa, Batangas, we met two children, Mohammad Reihan and Hafizah, and their mother Nashiba. Just three years before, they were displaced from. Marawi City due to the siege in 2017. They found themselves in Lemery, Batangas but were again displaced due to the Taal eruption. 

Displacement can happen to anyone anywhere. Over one hundred thousand continue to grapple with internal displacement in the Philippines, and its effects continue to be felt as internally displaced persons or IDPs go through the difficult process of return, local integration, or resettlement.  

It is therefore important for us to ensure that the rights of IDPs in the Philippines will be upheld and protected at every possible juncture. This is why the passage of an IDP Rights Bill must count as one of our priority pieces of legislation in the 19th Congress. 

In Abra, more than five hundred thousand people have been affected by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that was followed by more than a thousand aftershocks with a maximum of 5.0-magnitude. About one in ten of those affected are currently displaced, with 49, 794 IDPs recorded as of August 13. Most of them are being hosted by their families and friends in nearby municipalitieswith barely a thousand IDPs in nine evacuation centers currently in place across Region 1 and the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR)The government also confirmed the deaths of 11 individuals, along with 609 injured.

In Mindanao alone, more than twenty thousand families remain displaced; almost three thousand of them displaced within only the past couple of months. Take note, also, that across the Philippines, thousands more are displaced by incidents of crime, conflict, and disasters such as floods and earthquakes. 

We are responsible for each other.

There are 243 legislative districts in the Philippines and, while I have had my fair share of traveling around the country, there is no district that I know better than the one I grew up in – a district which I now have the honor of serving as a legislator and as its representative to the Philippine Congress.

That I stand with you today here in the halls of Batasang Pambansa is not only a matter of privilegethat I now have, thanks to the mandate given to me by the people of Lanao del Sur’s first district. It is, above everything else, a matter of obligation to a constituency made up of communities that raised me into the public servant I am today. 

And, while many districts are popular in their own right, the first district of Lanao del Sur is undoubtedly known by most, if not all of us here today. Because at its heart is Marawi City, the capital of Lanao del Sur – where the roots of every Meranao can be traced back to. 

In 2017, Marawi City was thrust into national consciousness as a siege crept its way into our streets and our skies. At least 98% of the city’s population was forcibly displaced at the height of the conflict. On paper, our harrowing ordeal lasted five months. For our people, it felt like a lifetime.

Five years after the siege, Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM) still places the number of internally displaced persons at 85,335 individuals, which roughly amounts to more than 17,500 households. Last June 23, in an event with the local government of Marawi City, the Department of Human Settlement and Urban Development (DHSUD) said that the rehabilitation program of Marawi City is 80% complete

Rehabilitation, however, is not mere reconstruction. It takes more than rebuilding infrastructure, because we need to rebuild lives. This is why the passage of Republic Act 11696 or the Marawi Siege Compensation Act of 2022 in April 2022 was not just a welcome development, but a necessary one. 

However, implementing the provisions of the said law heavily depends on the creation of the Marawi Compensation Board. The Marawi Compensation Board requires members with a deep understanding of compensation as a result of rights recognition – both under Philippine law and international law. 

The board shall be composed of nine members, all of whom shall be appointed by the president.

The president has said in his State of the Nation Address that “we live in difficult times brought about by some forces of our own making, but certainly, also by forces that are beyond our control.” The people of Lanao del Sur – the people of Marawi City – have dealt with these forces their entire lives.The forces that came with the siege back in 2017 continue to be felt by the people of Lanao del Sur.

The establishment of the Marawi Compensation Board is necessary to the success of our joint rehabilitation and recovery efforts. To establish the board is to commit strongly in supporting us – the people of Marawi City and Lanao del Sur – regain control of our circumstances.

On this note, we respectfully appeal to the president to consider the immediate constitution of the Marawi Compensation Board, and the appointment of its nine members, in accordance with the qualifications laid out in the Marawi Compensation Act.  

Land is central to the rehabilitation and recovery of Marawi City, and Task Force Bangon Marawi in its latest report, particularly in the section regarding harmonization of land records, recognizes just as much. Marawi City’s total land area nearly covers 9,000 hectares – more than two-thirds of which has been classified as a military reservation since the Americans built their first camp in the area during the 1900s. 

In the aftermath of the siege, residents of Marawi City have strongly appealed for the reclassification and redistribution of these lands to the rightful owners – families that have raised generations in Marawi City, and communities that have built and sustained local economies in the district and province. 

While we acknowledge the ongoing efforts of the Department of Agrarian Reform towards the distribution of lands in Camp Keithley to identified farmer-beneficiaries in the area, there is also a need to account for traditions and cultural sensibilities that are distinct to the people of Marawi City and their relationship to land. 

Along with the legal implications, we humbly appeal to the president to consider the lived realities of the Meranao people as the executive branch pursues the continued reclassification and redistribution of lands in Marawi City. 

Together with these efforts, we in the legislature must ensure that appropriations in the years immediately following the passage of RA 11696 will ensure funds necessary to effectively and efficiently implement the said law. The General Appropriations Act is a reflection of the administration’s priorities on ground, and we must strongly assert our commitment to the rehabilitation and recovery of Marawi City.

I am here in the House of Representatives at the pleasure and will of the people of Lanao del Sur’s first district, drawing knowledge and experience not only from my years in the Bangsamoro Government but in the years I have spent learning from and living with the Bangsamoro people. It is a privilege to stand with all of you here today, and with it is an obligation to constantly carry the concerns of my constituency into the national consciousness. It is my deepest hope and prayer that by the time that the 19th Congress draws to a close, all of us will remember Marawi City and the first district of Lanao del Sur not merely because of the tragedy that has irreversibly changed our lives, but mostly because of the meaningful and relevant work that we would have already accomplished, if only to bring comfort and healing to my people. 

Sangibo a salamat. 

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