Marawi: Three fruitless years
Of the many things President Duterte failed to mention in his penultimate State of the Nation Address, one stood out starkly, especially coming — or not coming — from the first president from Mindanao: an update on the rehabilitation of Marawi, one of the most urgent and important issues in the south.
Marawi, a city in Lanao del Sur, was left in ruins after a five-month military siege in 2017 to force out the Islamic State-linked Maute group that had invaded the city. The battle forced some 370,000 people to flee their homes, while more than a thousand lives were lost and huge swaths of property, including schools, markets, and mosques, were reduced to rubble.
In a speech in June 2017, at the height of the firefight in the city, Mr. Duterte promised that “Marawi will rise as a prosperous city again.” Today, more than three years later, only 28 percent of the P60.5 billion needed for the city’s rehabilitation has been released, while around 70,000 people remain in harsh conditions in temporary shelters, and another estimated 50,000 live in other family members’ houses.
In a letter published in this paper last Monday, the day of Mr. Duterte’s fifth Sona, 14 Maranao groups led by the Ako Bakwit Ranao Rescue Team and represented by 2019 senatorial candidate Samira Gutoc charged that the government’s promises appear to be nothing but empty rhetoric. The clearing of unexploded bombs and debris in Ground Zero has yet to be completed, for instance, and red tape continues to bog down the implementation of rehabilitation projects.
They also questioned Task Force Bangon Marawi chair and Housing Secretary Eduardo del Rosario’s claim that Marawi’s reconstruction is on track to be completed by the target deadline of December 2021 despite delays posed by the COVID-19 lockdowns. “We wonder how the good secretary can make those claims when reality on the ground belies it?” the groups asked.
Worse, they said, the pandemic has only compounded the Maranao people’s plight, with many crammed into temporary shelters despite physical distancing rules and others losing their jobs due to the economic slowdown. “As for the funds, some have been returned to the treasury, some releases were declared unauthorized by the Commission on Audit, while some funds, especially those donated by other countries, remain unaccounted for.”
Keen to return to their homes, Marawi folk were hoping to hear a report on their city’s rebuilding in the Sona. All they heard, as did the rest of the country, was the mention of Mindanao — twice — but in the context of the martial law that Mr. Duterte declared in 2017 following the Marawi siege, and which ended in 2019.
That glaring omission left Mindanao lawmakers deeply dismayed. “We waited for him to make any pronouncement that will somehow hasten infrastructure development in Marawi, but there was nothing,” Anak Mindanao party list Rep. Amihilda Sangcopan lamented in a statement. “If the rehabilitation of Marawi was not mentioned in the Sona, does this mean it will not be given priority?”
Zia Alonto Adiong, who served as Lanao del Sur province’s spokesperson during the Marawi crisis, maintained that while construction of permanent shelters and the rebuilding of damaged mosques have started following the recent release of a P3.5-billion budget, there should be assurance from Congress to allot funds so the rehabilitation could continue. “I would like to remind the public that though three years may [seem] a distant past, the recovery and rebuilding of Marawi is still a major part of our current State of the Nation,” Adiong said on Twitter.
The President did lay down a blunt deadline in his Sona—for telcos to improve their services by December. He should have likewise imposed a deadline for the much-delayed Marawi efforts, said House Deputy Speaker and Basilan Rep. Mujiv Hataman.
Against these criticisms, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque had a smooth answer: “Kaya nga po siguro hindi na sinama sa talumpati ng Presidente dahil nagsimula naman po ’yan at ongoing po ’yan (Maybe it was not included in the President’s speech because it [the reconstruction] has started and it is already ongoing).”
Yet, the Sona did not include among the 21 bills the President asked Congress to prioritize for the remainder of his term the measure proposing compensation for victims of the Marawi siege who lost their homes. In contrast, Mr. Duterte asked lawmakers to pass a law creating the Boracay Island Development Authority, to “sustain” the rehabilitation of Boracay which the government had kicked off in 2018.
Aggrieved Marawi residents forming the Marawi Reconstruction Conflict Watch have every right to ask: “The President elucidated plans for national recovery and resilience that he wants to pursue for all Filipinos. But what about the Maranao who have been waiting for three fruitless years—way before the pandemic and its consequent economic crisis?”
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