‘Invasion of a different kind’
In the aftermath of the war in Marawi, the government has pushed for a rehabilitation plan for a “new, modern and progressive” city. It has even adopted contentious policies in soliciting proposals from business firms and contractors to develop the plan — fast.
Instead of a transparent public bidding process, Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM) has adopted the Swiss-challenge strategy to select the firm or consortium to undertake the huge task of rebuilding.
TFBM head Eduardo del Rosario says this strategy is better because of its simpler procedure compared to public bidding processes. Under the Swiss challenge, a firm may offer a rehabilitation plan for, say, P100 billion. But another firm may say that it can do the same thing for a lesser price, like P75 billion. The process mimics that of an auction, except that the firm offering the lowest price for the rehabilitation/reconstruction project is awarded the contract.
President Duterte has given the go-signal to exempt the rebuilding of Marawi from the bureaucratic requirements of a public bidding. On Feb. 5, he issued Executive Order No. 49 that “shall guide the reconstruction process of the most affected area through a joint venture scheme.” This EO primarily exempts the rebuilding of Marawi from the usual housing guidelines and bidding procedures in favor of joint-venture agreements “to expedite the implementation of recovery, reconstruction and rehabilitation projects in the most affected areas” of Marawi.
It came as no surprise that a consortium of six Chinese and four Filipino firms got the nod of TFBM and the President. It is no secret that the President is aggressively pushing for a substantial Chinese footprint in “developing” the impoverished parts of this country.
In his “Build, build, build” scheme, China is the main benefactor when it grants loans with onerous interest rates to the Philippines. His friends from the Chinese government are probably grinning from ear to ear, hearing sweet clinking sounds of huge profits once the Philippines embarks on this predominantly Chinese-led rebuilding of Marawi.
But what of the Maranaw, the people of the lake—are they part of crafting the plan? Is this the kind of rebuilding they prefer? Will this plan consider their unique culture and traditions, their way of life as Muslims, and their colorful heritage, with an identity shaped by their coexistence with the ecology of Lanao Lake?
Del Rosario believes that this plan is the “best” for Marawi: It will make it at par with progressive, modern and dynamic economic hubs in the country. The rebuilding is not for the government or the TFBM members, yet from their pronouncements, they might stand to gain in this massive rebuilding project. In one interview, Del Rosario said the plan is not to make the displaced residents go back to their homes.
Do TFBM members have the right to prohibit the Maranaw from reclaiming their homes, their lives, and their dignity as a people? The TFBM members are not from Marawi, and never experienced displacement or the violence of armed conflicts.
The wanton exclusion of the Maranaw’s voice and agency in the rebuilding plan is a blatant act of drowning out their unique and distinctive sociocultural identity. The plan may look impressive on paper, but it is, for those who have lost their homes in the Marawi siege, “an invasion of a different kind…” and “robbing us of our soul” (from the open letter of the Ranaw Multi-Sectoral Movement to the President).
The national government has always been imperious in imposing its will on its constituencies, not considering the range and breadth of diversity in our nation.
Despite years of dialogues on the importance of inclusive approaches in governance, “Imperial Manila” still thinks that what is “ideal” for it is true for Mindanao. This imposition has given rise to policies that resulted in decades of historical injustice against the Bangsamoro, and other “first nation” communities in Mindanao. These acts of injustice have never been acknowledged as a fundamental affront to the inherent rights of the Bangsamoro as peoples with a distinctive identity. These acts have spawned varied iterations of challenging the Philippine state, many of which have used extremist violent means.
The exclusion of Maranaw voices from the rehabilitation plan and its implementation will become fertile ground for the seeds of more virulent types of extremism to germinate. But isn’t extremism the nemesis of the government, which is why security forces are bullish in their campaigns to counter it?
There are two possible explanations for this. Either government officials are dense and take long to process important information on the push factors of extremism, or ignoring these push factors is part of a lucrative incentive structure that will generate pecuniary benefits for them.
Either way, ordinary people, like the thousands of Maranaw who lost their homes, will lose, big-time.
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Rufa Cagoco-Guiam, a retired sociology professor of Mindanao State University–General Santos City, is active in peace advocacy work, especially as a convener of the Independent Working Group on Transitional Justice and Dealing with the Past in the Bangsamoro.
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