On August 7, 2018, a special military team under the direction of Philippine Secretary of Defense, Delfin Lorenzana, escorted GRM 's Chairman David Day, CEO Dr. Elizabeth Chan, and the Foundation's Director of International Diplomatic Outreach, Ms. Bing Branigin, from Villamor Airbase in Metro Manila down to the island of Mindanao (via C-130) in the Southern Philippines. From Cagayan de Oro, Mindanao, the AFP escort team then transported the Foundation's executives onto Marawi City (by helicopter)--the site of the 2017 siege to displace ISIS terrorists led by the Maute brothers (Abdullah and Omar Maute).
Officially known as the Islamic City of Marawi, it is the largest Muslim city in this predominantly Catholic nation. On May 23, 2017, government forces clashed with armed fighters from two ISIS-affiliated groups - the Abu Sayyaf and the Maute. The siege was triggered when the military tried to arrest top ISIS leader Isnilon Hapilon. ISIS fighters then laid siege to the city that same month (May of 2017), prompting several months of heavy combat that prompted hundreds of thousands to flee and left more than 1,000 dead. The main commercial section of this former lakeside resort city was obliterated during the course of the fighting. It is presently estimated that 95 percent of the structures within the 4 square kilometres (1.5 sq mi) of the hearty of the city and the main battle area to be heavily damaged or completely collapsed. Some 3,152 buildings were completely destroyed and 2,145 buildings were partially to heavily damaged during the fighting.
The purpose of the GRM team visit to Marawi City was to permit the Foundation to conduct a Preliminary Risk Assessment of the Marawi situation prefatory to the enormous undertaking of rebuilding a large portion of the formerly besieged city. The visit included a briefing by both the political and the military leadership in Marawi City on the current plans to rebuild the city. This briefing was then coupled with a detailed discussion of the various complex issues confronting the rebuilding efforts.
A carefully escorted military tour of the currently cordoned-off section of Marawi City ("Ground Zero" or "Most Affected Area") was followed by further a briefing from a viewing platform used by snipers during the battle. In addition, the GRM team was given a bomb, IED, and booby trap briefing by an ordinance officer of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The "heartbreaker" was to witness firsthand the extent of the damage and appreciate the challenges faced in the enormous rebuilding task ahead.
The tour of the battle area was followed by a visit to a refugee camp which currently houses Maranao persons displaced from the worst of the battle area. The "heartwarmer" was to observe the friendly relationship between the military escort team and the Maranao refugees. It was also heartwarming to observe the understanding and sensitivity of the military to the safety, logistics, counter-terrorism, and cultural challenges that lay squarely in the rebuilding and resettling road ahead.
The destroyed portion of Marawi City is quite large and nature of its rebuilding will have Regional security implications well beyond the island of Mindanao.
For more on the Foundation's Marawi Project and focus, click here.