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DAVAO CITY: Five years after pro-Daesh militants took control of Marawi in the Philippines, hundreds of displaced residents on Monday staged protests around the city in renewed calls to be allowed to return home.

The five-month battle in the predominantly Muslim city on the island of Mindanao began on May 23, 2017, leaving more than 1,100 people dead and forcing more than 300,000 from their homes. The Philippines army was able to reclaim the city on Oct. 23 that year, making it the country’s longest urban battle in modern history.

After widespread destruction in the once picturesque lakeside town, the government has in the years since led rebuilding efforts, including the reconstructions of dozens of mosques and other public infrastructure.

But some Marawi residents, locally known as Maranaos, are still unable to return home.

“Although public facilities for the people were rebuilt, the immediate concerns of the internally displaced people of returning to their homes remain unresolved,” Drieza Lininding, chairman of the Moro Consensus Group that led Monday’s protests, told Arab News, adding that Maranaos had to endure more hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 17,000 families from Marawi remain displaced as of April this year, according to government data. Most of the public is still unable to access the city’s 40-hectare area that used to be its commercial district, while thousands are still living in temporary shelters mushroomed on the outskirts of the city.

“We reiterate our demand for the Philippines government to accelerate its efforts on rebuilding the city by prioritizing the immediate, safe and dignified return of the displaced families back to their places of origin.”

The government’s inter-agency task force in charge of the city’s reconstruction, Bangon Marawi, said that there is nothing preventing Maranaos from returning to their homes.

“We have a process. They should apply for a permit and show us proof they own the lot to avoid future land conflict issues,” Felix Castro, who heads the task force, told Arab News.

“It’s unfair to claim we have prevented them. These people complaining — it seems they ignore our process. Those who managed to provide the necessary documents were already given permits and they have started their home construction.”

Yet many who left in the middle of the battle five years ago also left behind most of their belongings.

“We can’t provide proof of ownership since when we left our homes we left everything, including the important documents,” Amenodin “Ding” Cali, 56, a protester, told Arab News.

“Besides, we don’t have money to use in securing those documents they wanted from us,” Cali added, alluding to the fees associated with acquiring the government permits.

Outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte last month signed the Marawi Compensation Act, which paves the way for the creation of a nine-member board that would process the claims of Maranaos.

Aside from resolving the issues of displacement, the government should remain alert for threats in Mindanao, said Rommel Banlaoi, a counterterrorism analyst at the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research.

“There are still personalities opposing the government and they want full separation of Mindanao. These active militants are remnants but there are new emerging leaders still aligned with Daesh,” Banlaoi said.

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