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No Free Lunch

Let’s do Marawi right

/ 05:08 AM October 31, 2017

How do you solve a problem like Marawi? All eyes are now on this city in ruins, and rightly so. Everyone surely realizes that ending the hostilities is just the start of what will be a long and complex process of bringing the city back on its feet. Marawi will never be the same, and rebuilding a new and better Marawi is a national challenge.

In facing this challenge, I see at least three crucial points that must be taken to heart.


First, there is far more to rebuilding Marawi than physical reconstruction. We all know it’s about much more than rebuilding houses and facilities, and more than rebuilding lives and livelihoods. It’s also about restoring and rebuilding the affected people’s faith in the Philippine state. It was, after all, the government, with its superior military firepower, that is seen by many there as the contravida who wrecked their homes with bombs and bullets. The military itself reported that civilian households had harbored rebels at the height of the hostilities, and not just because they were family or friend to many. It was a complicating factor that drew out the conflict much longer than they projected.

What all this implies is that the task now is far more complex than physical restoration and planning; sociopolitical restoration and planning make up the more tricky part. I thus find it remarkable that the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Peace Process was not even in the original membership of Task Force Bangon Marawi. I would have thought it obvious that its psychosocial and political expertise is key to the work of rebuilding lives in Marawi. To neglect this crucial element is to risk putting to naught the billions of pesos about to be poured there.


Second, for reasons already alluded to and despite the seeming tendency to do otherwise, restoring and rebuilding Marawi must not be a top-down process planned and executed primarily by a paternalistic national government. Rather, the bottom-up element must figure prominently in the equation. The affected communities, along with their local (city and barangay) and regional governments (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao), must see themselves determining the directions and actions to be taken. There is no lack of capable minds, and even more of the needed hearts, in the city and the region to capably plot out their future. The Mindanao State University is right there, for example—and I heard that even the rebels left it undisturbed from the outset, such that university authorities managed to restore classes quickly after hostilities first broke out.

There are surely many young, capable and progressive Maranaw who could be convened to collectively speak for the affected communities and plan their way forward. The government and the development partners now rushing to the scene would do well to first step back and hear out the direct stakeholders on the reconstruction agenda. I worry, for example, that the tired old formulas used to rebuild disaster-stricken areas (like those battered by “Yolanda”) or conflict-affected areas overseas (like Afghanistan) might be wrongly applied without ample regard for the very peculiar challenge that is Marawi.

Third, we need an effective mechanism to orchestrate and coordinate all efforts to restore and reconstruct lives and structures in Marawi. With dozens of government agencies involved in the effort, the task force approach of having a body headed by and composed of agency representatives with other regular functions to fulfill is a formula for disaster. What’s needed is a full-time, effective and accountable orchestrator with full command over the necessary personnel and resources, and authority over the various line agencies so that they in turn do their part unhampered by bureaucratic rigidities. But their primary role is still to listen to what the locals believe is best for their future, perhaps help improve on it based on wider experience, but mainly provide the necessary resources and services to get moving.

The road ahead for Marawi promises to be a long, winding and tortuous one, and we had better set out with the right footing, and on the right vehicle, to do the journey right.

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TAGS: Cielito F. Habito, Marawi rehabilitation, Marawi siege, No Free Lunch
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