To get Marawi back on its feet
The images coming out of Marawi City are heartbreaking. One is inevitably led to think of the likes of Aleppo and other battleground cities in the Middle East upon seeing photos of utterly destroyed streets, neighborhoods and buildings in the heart of a once genteel university town in Mindanao.
Before the terrorist siege that laid waste to Marawi, it was a model community of harmony between its Christian and Muslim peoples; now, nearly all of its 200,000 residents have been driven away from their homes by the fighting, fleeing to Iligan and other nearby cities and towns with nothing more than the clothes on their back. Many of their homes and communities have been reduced to rubble, burned to the ground, or pockmarked with bullet holes as military airstrikes and shelling continue to pound surprisingly resistant terrorist pockets in residential neighborhoods.
Three weeks of fighting have led to 58 soldiers killed, including a fresh batch of 13 Marines felled last Friday in reportedly one of the most ferocious gun battles so far. Some 40 other soldiers were wounded in what the military described as house-to-house, “raging close-quarter combat” with Islamist fighters in the village of Madaya. Hundreds of terrorists, among them fighters from Indonesia, Malaysia and a few other countries, are said to still occupy at least 10 percent of the city. A sustained barrage of shelling and air and ground assaults over the last two weeks have not dislodged them from their hiding places, though the military says 138 of the fighters have been killed. Meanwhile, 29 civilians have died.
Rehabilitating the Islamic City of Marawi after the fighting is over and the dust has settled is a tremendous task requiring enormous costs, but one that is owed its residents without question. Marawi is the most populous city, and an important economic hub as well as a center of learning and culture in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. President Duterte’s administration has promised to set aside P10 billion to jump-start the rebuilding of the city once the terrorists are driven out: the “Bangon Marawi” recovery, reconstruction and rehabilitation program, announced Malacañang, will be underpinned by an executive order to be issued by Mr. Duterte and which would allocate the funds and direct the agencies that would spearhead the effort.
“We want to tell our countrymen in Marawi that we will not leave Marawi just like that,” said the Armed Forces spokesperson, Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla.
“Bangon Marawi” is a welcome piece of positive news amid the disheartening reports on the devastated city. The most immediate need at this time is to tend to the tens of thousands of Marawi refugees who are huddled in evacuation centers in many
other parts of Mindanao and yearning to return home. It would take a while for them to return to their old neighborhoods and begin rebuilding their lives, so the urgent task at hand is to keep them safe and provided for where they are.
Of course, the bigger task is to see the rehabilitation plan get off the ground with speed, efficiency and transparency. The damage to the city, and to the Philippines as a whole, is incalculable, and not only in physical terms. But successfully reclaiming normalcy for this part of Mindanao would eventually be the most powerful rejoinder to the terrorists’ ideology of destruction.
If there is one moment, then, when Mr. Duterte’s much-vaunted toughness and political will are needed, it would be in the immediate aftermath of the war, when Marawi, finally rid of terrorists but reeling from the ruin and carnage, needs to be speedily rebuilt and given back to its residents. “Bangon Marawi” must not go the way of other
broken, wasteful government programs; every cent and ounce of it must go to getting the city and its people back on their feet.
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