Filipinos returning from Hubei province in China, the so-called “epicenter” of the 2019-nCoV global epidemic, will be temporarily quarantined in the athletes’ quarters built for last year’s Southeast Asian Games. This seems a simple, clever and inexpensive answer to the dilemma of where and how to house the hundreds of expats who used to work in Hubei without the country running the risk of contagion. All arriving expatriates will be quarantined for two weeks and then allowed to go back home to their families. That is, unless they fall ill or develop symptoms, in which case, they will be brought to a hospital.
Filipinos driven home by illness are but the latest concern for a country grappling with displacement and disruption; certainly, we aren’t out of the housing woods yet. The government is still in the process of figuring out where to relocate the hundreds of displaced families who had to abandon their homes within the seven-kilometer radius danger zone of Taal Volcano. While the volcano seems to have relatively quieted down, there are no guarantees that it will not act up again. Some evacuees, however, are resisting the idea of abandoning their homes. Palace spokesperson Salvador Panelo assured those dislocated that housing units in Batangas, Laguna, Cavite and Quezon have been allocated for them. These structures had been built and reserved for soldiers and police, so it seems the government will simply be replacing one set of homeless folk with another.
Providing little comfort for today’s crop of displaced and dislocated citizens is the fate of Marawi City and its residents, the majority of whom are still languishing in what were supposed to be temporary tents and relief centers almost three years after hostilities in the city came to an end.
And it’s not as if money is not available to restore the storied dignity of the cultural and religious capital of Muslim Filipinos. Case in point: the return to the National Treasury of at least P406.5 million in funds allotted in 2018 for rebuilding Marawi City. The money was there, but bureaucratic inertia on the part of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) ensured that it could not be used for its intended purpose.
The P406.5 million is just part of the P5.1 billion allotted for the Marawi Recovery Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Program in the 2018 national budget. But because of the delay in approval by the Office of the President, as well as the failure of implementing bodies to submit project proposals to the Office of the Civil Defense that serves as the secretariat of the NDRRMC, the funds were left unused.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Marawi residents have yet to be allowed to return to their homes and get on with their lives. Indeed, close to 400 Marawi residents recently filed a class suit against government officials, including Eduardo del Rosario, chair of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council and head of Task Force Bangon Marawi (Rise Marawi), and Marawi Mayor Majul Gandamra, who still refuse to allow residents to go back to their homes. Lawyer Salic Dumarpa, who filed the suit in behalf of Marawi folk, said that they “doubt the sincerity of the government in its rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts in Marawi.” And the suit is not simply out of pique, said Dumarpa; “we have more than sufficient evidence to convince the court that indeed it is about time that the government allows the immediate return of the internally displaced persons” of Marawi.
What has happened to all the grand plans and rosy promises made by President Duterte soon after the cessation of hostilities? Photos and video images of the city today show that little has changed since the government declared that the Maute Group and its rebel sympathizers had fled the city. Rubble is still everywhere, ruined buildings make for distressing landmarks, and hardly any commerce or reestablished communities are evident. This, even as officials continue dithering about one abandoned plan after another, while increasingly disillusioned residents stew in despair in temporary shelters. And the longer Marawi languishes in neglect, the fear is that the more active Islamist radicals become, feeding on the seeming indifference and incompetence of government to gain more adherents.
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