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Commentary

‘Inshallah’ (God willing)

05:06 AM April 17, 2018

The stores in Marawi were open again! So we stopped our van to buy marang, the fruit, and dodol, a sweet Maranaw delicacy, while the rich aroma of halal dishes wafting from the nearby carinderia reminded us that it was almost lunchtime. We quickly continued on our way and passed groups of children walking together and laughing. At an intersection, we stopped again to ask for directions to City Hall from a portly man who came out of a house that had been marked “CLEARED” in black spray paint by the military.

It was my fourth time in Marawi and it filled me with hope to see that the city is coming back to life. The situation is a far cry from the first time our team from Social Housing Finance Corp. (SHFC) visited, when the conflict was still going on, and we had to wear bulletproof vests and helmets. The only movements we could see then were those of armored cars and military trucks ferrying troops.

When our team visited a second time with Secretary Eduardo del Rosario of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council to distribute relief goods in Pantao Ragat, we saw the heart-wrenching conditions of families in crowded evacuation centers. It was difficult for me to wrap my head around what was happening. But I put on a calm face, smiled back at the courageous evacuees, and played with the little children while quietly admiring their resilience.

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What we saw in this most recent visit was therefore a welcome sight. We went with SHFC president Arnolfo Ricardo Cabling to discuss with city officials the permanent shelter project that the agency will undertake in partnership with UN-Habitat for about 1,500 families displaced by the conflict. The sooner we restore a sense of normalcy in the communities, the faster they can recover. It will be our most challenging collaboration with UN-Habitat yet, because housing in a postconflict context is something new to both our organizations.

The Kuala Lumpur Declaration on Cities 2030, issued at the Ninth World Urban Forum held in February, notes with concern “that [humanitarian] crises are increasingly urban.” In the Philippines, for example, we had the siege in Zamboanga City in 2013 and the five-month crisis in Marawi last year. This trend is disconcerting because cities are engines of growth, where population and resources are concentrated. Thus, when an urban conflict erupts, it could compromise the viability of a city and the well-being of its communities in the long term.

The Declaration goes on to call for “inclusive urbanization tools adapted to local contexts and to the nature of … conflicts” in order to “contribute to building and sustaining peace.” This is what we are trying to do in our Marawi project. To ensure long-term peace and development in such a postconflict context, we must go beyond mere physical rebuilding; we need to help restore the people’s social capital, as well as a sense of control over their lives and aspirations. That is why we are pursuing a community-driven and culturally sensitive intervention.

Warren Ubongen, our architect partner from UN-Habitat, told the city officials that aside from houses, there would be community infrastructure like mosques that are central to the Maranaw people’s lives. There will be livelihood and peace-building initiatives, too. We need to build inclusive communities of peace where terrorists cannot sow their malevolent and divisive ideas again. As he said this, heads nodded around the table in unanimous agreement.

After our meeting, which resulted in specific commitments from all the parties, we went up to the third floor of City Hall. Through the glass window, we could see the serene Lanao Lake, a quiet witness to the urban warfare that had just ended. We also saw gray concrete houses in the still-off-limits “ground zero,” their former residents probably still living in the remaining evacuation centers or with relatives.

The task before us is enormous; we cannot wait to begin working with the families in rebuilding their communities. Inshallah.

* * *

Lawyer Junefe Gilig Payot is vice president for operations of SHFC (Mindanao), a government-owned and -controlled corporation. He holds a master’s degree in poverty and development from the University of Manchester (Chevening Scholarship).

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