Microfinance in a Conflict Zone:The Battle of Marawi

16 Pages Posted: 19 Nov 2018 Last revised: 5 Dec 2018

See all articles by Md Kamrul Tarafder

Md Kamrul Tarafder

ASA Philippines Foundation

Barbara Custodio

ASA Philippines Foundation

Date Written: August 30, 2018


The Islamic City of Marawi
In the southern island of Mindanao, nestled by the shores of Lake Lanao, lies the Islamic City of Marawi. At an elevation of 700 meters or 2,300 feet, it has a cooler climate compared to most other areas in the Philippines. It is thus known as the “Summer Capital of the South”.

Marawi is the capital city of Lanao del Sur province. It is the province’s commercial and educational center. It has a total land area of 87.55 square kilometres (33.80 square miles). In 2015, Marawi had a population of 201,785 (2015 Census of Population and Housing). Though Marawi City has the second smallest land area in Lanao del Sur province (its area is just 0.58% of the total land area of Lanao del Sur), it is home to one in every five residents of Lanao del Sur. Lanao del Sur is the poorest province in the Philippines with a 74.3% poverty incidence (Philippine Statistics Authority 1st semester 2015 report) which means that 7 out of every 10 families in the province are poor. Of the 20 poorest provinces in the Philippines, 11 are located in Mindanao, and 3 out of 5 provinces of Muslim Mindanao are among the poorest. The poverty situation in Mindanao exists despite its vast natural resources, which remain untapped due to decades-long conflicts brought about by communist rebels, Islamic separatists and local warlords in the region. A century-long discrimination resulted in resentment and rivalry, and destroyed the once highly valued and unique Muslim culture.

The people of Marawi are called Maranaos. They are named after Lake Lanao which is called Meranau in the Maranao dialect. Lake Lanao is the second largest lake in the country and is one of a handful of ancient lakes around the world. Marawi was founded under the name Dansalan in 1639 by would-be Spanish conquerors led by Francisco Atienza. The Spanish conquistadores, however, were thwarted by thousands of Maranao warriors who forced the Spaniards to retreat that same year.

The Islamification of the Maranaos began in the 15th century with the arrival of Tausug preachers in Lake Lanao and culminated in the 16th century with the coming of an Arab named Muhammad Sharif Kabungsuwan. Though among the last Muslims in the country to be fully Islamized, the Maranaos are staunch believers. This is evinced by their many graceful mosques -- from the glistening, golden Capitol Mosque to the largest mosque in Marawi City, the King Faisal Mosque, which was donated by the former king of Saudi Arabia to Mindanao State University.

Along with the domes and minarets which punctuate Marawi’s skyline, the torogans or the ancestral homes of Maranao royalties dazzle with their indigenous, ornate okir designs carved into prominent panolongs (beams which protrude in the front of a house), together with their steep roofs and thick wooden columns. One can almost visualize the sultans and datuswho once proudly lived there.

Maranaos are known for their vibrant traditional arts and culture. There’s the famous singkil dance where a dancer gingerly steps in and out of moving, criss-crossed bamboo poles. Colorful multipurpose malongs are handwoven on backstrap looms. Expert craftsmen create unique brassware as well as woodcarvings of the mythical Sarimanok bird.

Maranaos are a business-minded people. They enthusiastically engage as shopkeepers, entrepreneurs or traders of various types of businesses.

Marawi City is home to a marker designated as Kilometer Zero. Located near the Marawi City Hall, it is considered the beginning of or KM 0 for all road distances on the island of Mindanao. The Battle of Marawi: From Kilometer Zero to Ground Zero.

For the staff of ASA Philippines Marawi Branch 0521, May 23, 2017 started out just like any other day. Five microfinance officers (MFOs), 1 branch manager (BM) and 1 househelp attended to their daily duties. The MFOs and BM visited their clients in the morning, then came back to the branch to do loan releases at 1:00 pm. It was the month of Ramadan. They suddenly heard gunshots from close by. They were not alarmed though as they thought some neighbors were welcoming the coming of Ramadan by making loud noises. After the loan releases, they decided to visit some clients who had not paid their loans. The MFOs paired up with each other and went out. MFOs Monalisah and Abdul were wondering why there were so many people going out into the streets, but other than that, they didn’t notice anything unusual. While at the client’s community, they met some people who urged them to go home. Monalisah didn’t want to go home though, she wanted to stay and try to collect from the client. Then they got a call from the branch telling them to go back. So they started to make their way back to the branch, and that is when they saw an ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIL - Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) inspired militant at the end of a bridge in a truck. What the ASA Marawi Branch staff did not realize at that point was that they had walked into the start of what would become a sustained urban battle between the Philippine military and police versus local Islamic militant groups led by the Abu Sayyaf and the Maute groups. The Abu Sayyaf is a notorious group responsible for kidnappings and bombings in the Philippines. These militant groupsare inspired by the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group.

Incidentally, a gathering of Tablighi Jamaat (Muslim missionaries who preach fellow Sunnis to practice faith) started on or around May 16 in Marawi. Many devotees from across the country as well as foreigners attended. It was most likely that some known terrorists like Isnilon Hapilon, the head of Abu Sayyaf, entered into the area disguised as attendees of Tablighi.

Prior to May 23, the military together with the police descended upon Marawi to verify information that the wanted Maute brothers Omar and Abdullah were in the area. Instead of the brothers, they saw Isnilon Hapilon. Hapilon had been appointed “emir”of the IS caliphate of the Philippines. He was in the process of unifying his Abu Sayyaf group with other terrorist groups including the Maute group.

The military decided to conduct a precisionoperationto capture Hapilon. On May 23, it proceeded with the operation, engaging the Abu Sayyaf in firefights. In response, the Abu Sayyaf called for reinforcements from the Maute group. Instead of a swift in-and-out operation, much to the military’s surprise, they had walked into an entire city swarming with armed Islamic militants. Unprepared to deal with this armada, the military retreated. Around 400 Islamic militants in trucks equipped with machine guns then spread out across Marawi City. Carrying high-powered rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and Molotov cocktails, they laid siege to the city and declared the city a new caliphate of ISIL. They attacked Camp Ranao military base and the police station. They occupied the main streets, major bridges, the public hospital Amai Pakpak Medical Center, Marawi City Hall, Mindanao State University and Marawi City Jail. Fire broke out in the city jail and prisoners escaped. The militants burned Dansalan College, Ninoy Aquino School and the Cathedral of Maria Auxiliadora. A priest named Fr. Chito and some churchgoers were taken hostage while a police officer was killed. Power was cut in the city.

Trying to avoid the ISIS inspired militants, Monalisah and Abdul found themselves trapped in Bubong private school. After some time, they ventured out and took a different route from their usual one. The area they passed was very quiet, seemingly like a ghost town as there was no one around. Night had fallen. Monalisah got a call from her sibling who warned them not to go out as the ISIS inspired militants were corralling guys in the streets, forcing them to join the militants’ cause. They noticed that power had been cut across the city making the fires raging in the city even more prominent. When they got close to the branch, they saw that an abandoned house that they called the White House was occupied by the ISIS inspired militants. Power had not been cut to the White House nor to its surrounding area. The ASA Philippines branch, which was located close to the White House, benefited from the uninterrupted power supply.

Clashes continued that night. Residents took to social media to report explosions across the city. By the end of the night, President Rodrigo Duterte, who was in Russia for an official visit, declared martial law across the Mindanao group of islands. Marawi City, the proud owner of a Kilometer Zero marker in Mindanao, had become the center of an armed conflict that was to last for five long months, leaving more than 1,200 people dead. Marawi City had become Ground Zero. An exodus of people started filling all roads leading out of Marawi.

Keywords: Conflict, Marawi, Microfinance, Rehabilitation, Relief

Suggested Citation

Tarafder, Md Kamrul and Custodio, Barbara, Microfinance in a Conflict Zone:The Battle of Marawi (August 30, 2018). OIDA International Journal of Sustainable Development, Vol. 11, No. 09, pp. 11-24, 2018, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3286480

Md Kamrul Tarafder (Contact Author)

ASA Philippines Foundation ( email )

Pasig City, 1605

Barbara Custodio

ASA Philippines Foundation ( email )

Pasig City, 1605

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