This photo taken on May 23, 2021 shows Philippine soldiers looking over workers constructing a building which was a main battleground in 2017 when Islamic State-inspired Muslim militants laid siege to the southern Philippine city of Marawi, resulting in a five-month campaign that claimed more than 1,000 lives until government troops re-took control.
Ferdinandh CABRERA / AFP
COTABATO CITY: The mayor of Marawi City, Lanao del Sur, has declared that the State’s power of eminent domain allows it to expropriate any piece of land that it needs for the development and rehabilitation of the city.
Majul Gandamra, also a lawyer, was responding to accusations that the local government was engaged in landgrabbing or illegally confiscating privately-owned land in the city’s former commercial area, according to Diana Jean Moraleda, senior program manager of Communications International Alert Philippines.
Marawi was left in ruins and its residents displaced after pro-Islamic State extremists seized control of the city in May 2017.
A full-scale military response led to the destruction of the Islamic City and its many historical and cultural treasures.
Gandamra warned those entering the most affected area of Marawi that they shoulder the burden of proof in asserting their ownership of the land.
The controversy erupted after many displaced residents complained to the local government and social media that local tax authorities were refusing to accept their tax payments and landowners were being denied building permits for pieces of property that would be sequestered by the National Housing Authority.
These residents who have been denied entry into their homes for more than three years, decried the lack of transparency and deplored the government for allegedly duping them.
“We had no choice but to wait despite the slow pace of rehabilitation and now it turns out that they were planning to take [what are ours] without our knowledge and without consultation with those directly affected,” said one resident who did not want herself to be identified.
The assets in question were described by the Marawi City mayor as part of the previous reclamation area in the city.
Mapping expert Jorge Golle of International Alert Philippines, however, showed geographical maps overlaid with land titles and claims made by the group indicating these areas as beyond the reclamation area.
“More than 11,000 individuals will lose their prime areas if they [local government] proceed with the sequestration of the properties,” Golle said.
“We are long-time occupants of these properties with legitimate certificates of land title, and we cannot be dispossessed of our land without a proper court hearing and an order from the court. This is in violation of all existing jurisprudence about private property rights,” said lawyer Ibrahim Mimbalawag, a leading oppositor of what he calls a government-led yet illegal expropriation of their assets.
Mimbalawag’s family is among those who will lose what they own with the State’s takeover.
“Might is not right, and silence does not mean our agreement,” Mimbalawag said.
Gandamra said he is prepared to revoke any previous agreements or concessions given by previous local governments to the claimants whose land and other assets are situated in the reclamation area.
The mayor kept silent when asked about whether they were willing to pay compensation to the displaced residents.
“Our homes, our private properties, our mosques, and our cultural and historical heritage were all destroyed during the Marawi siege. The government has not even passed a compensation bill for the reparation of our damaged houses and private properties. Now the local government is unlawfully taking our properties without just compensation and tells us to our face that we can no longer go back to our titled lots to rebuild our houses. I assure you that we shall continuously oppose this illegal confiscation, along with the others affected,” Mimbalawag said.