So much for promises.
There were the words on June 20, 2017: “Tutulungan ko kayo. Huwag kayong mag-alala. Tutulungan ko kayo hanggang relocation. And then, we will rehabilitate ang Marawi. Gaganda iyon ulit (I will help you, don’t worry. I will help you relocate, and then we will rehabilitate Marawi. It will rise anew).”
More, just seven days later: “But one thing I will promise you, my brother Moro, I will see to it that Marawi will rise as a prosperous city again.”
In the days and months following the military offensive that drove the Maute terrorists out of Marawi, but which had reduced the city to a hulking, devastated ruin, President Duterte was unequivocal about what must be done to redress the tragedy that had befallen the crown jewel of Islamic Mindanao.
He said he bled for the people of Marawi: “I am not happy that the Maranaos are dying. I am not happy with the hardships you are facing. I see no satisfaction even in winning the war. I just wanted this thing over, and these radicals and extremists out of the Muslim world.”
In his June 27, 2017 remarks, he also said he had set aside P20 billion to rebuild the city, and would allocate more if necessary. And he was candid about the consequences of failing in this mission: “I will rebuild Marawi because if not, I will remain forever the villain.”
The five-month battle to wrest Marawi from terrorists, the worst fighting on Philippine soil in recent memory, left more than 800 militants and 162 government forces killed. As of March this year, some 70,000 people are still languishing in evacuation centers, prevented to go back to their homes because rehabilitation work is supposedly still unfinished.
It took over a year, in fact, before the Task Force Bangon Marawi held rites, on Oct. 30, 2018, to signal the start of the rehabilitation of Ground Zero, the most affected part of the city. The event had been postponed repeatedly to accommodate Mr. Duterte’s schedule, but he was still a no-show at the launch.
Since then, the work under the massive Bangon Marawi Comprehensive Recovery and Rehabilitation Program has been progressing at a snail’s pace, despite some P42 billion already raised for the rehabilitation, about two-thirds of the close to P70 billion that the government said was needed to rebuild the war-torn city.
Some P5 billion in unused government funds intended for the victims of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” were also diverted to Marawi.
Still, two years later, the 250-hectare Ground Zero remains a ghost town, as the New York Times and other media outlets have reported.
Marawi folk have held demonstrations and spoken out to demand not only to be allowed back into their homes and communities, but also, at the very least, to be consulted and given a voice in the rebuilding plans and projects for their city that have reportedly been cornered by outside interests, among them some Chinese firms.
Those developments have only compounded the ordeal of Marawi folk, but worse, it seems, is yet to come. In a declaration that cruelly dashes the hopes of those who had desperately clung to his words of assurances despite the delays and kinks in the reconstruction of their city, Mr. Duterte recently sounded off about taking back his promise of government aid and instead letting the residents rebuild Marawi themselves — because, he said, many of them are affluent, anyway.
His exact words, spoken in Pampanga following the 6.1-magnitude earthquake that rattled parts of Luzon: “I don’t think I should be spending for their buildings [referring to Marawi residents]. Hindi ako maggagasta ng ano. Maraming pera ang mga tao diyan (I won’t spend. People there have a lot of money). Every Maranao there is a businessman.”
And, as if to rub salt on their wounds, Mr. Duterte went so far as to suggest that part of the wealth of the Maranao came from illegal drugs: “Kasali na yung shabu, may pera sila (Including shabu, they have money),” he said, before cycling back to the point that he “doesn’t think he’s ready” to lend a hand to the city.
The weary people of Marawi, and the rest of the country, have all the reason to be aggrieved at Mr. Duterte’s casual and cruel repudiation of his responsibility to help Marawi — yet another demonstration, it would appear, of his governance by whim.
The cataclysm that destroyed the city was, first and foremost, a monumental intelligence failure on the part of his administration. Its residents, already displaced and battered, do not deserve to be treated this way — with a helping of empty promises, and a betrayal that is the most unkindest cut of all.
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