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Editorial

Frustrated beyond words

/ 05:07 AM October 21, 2021

Four years after he proudly declared that Marawi City had been “liberated from terrorist influence,” President Duterte returned to the devastated city last Saturday with a markedly apologetic tone. “Let me take this opportunity to reassure the people of Marawi that the government is doing its best to expedite the completion of rehabilitation projects at the soonest possible time,” he said in his speech in the capital of Lanao del Sur.

The reassurances were needed, because residents have been vocal in their discontent at the broken promises of prompt rehabilitation they have heard from Mr. Duterte’s administration ever since their city was left in ruins by the five-month-long firefight between government forces and the Islamic State-inspired Maute and Abu Sayyaf terrorist groups in 2017. That siege claimed the lives of some 1,000 militants and 160 government troops and ejected about 300,000 residents, many of whom remain in temporary shelters or are scattered in neighboring cities to this day.

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The Asian Development Bank pegged the total losses from the siege, which involved heavy aerial bombardment, at about $348 million, and that at least $1.5 billion was needed to rehabilitate the city.

According to Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM), led by Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development Secretary Eduardo del Rosario, public infrastructure in Marawi City is now 75 percent complete since rebuilding began in 2017. Its projection is that all of the rehabilitation projects—roads, networks, schools, barangay centers—will be completed before President Duterte steps down in 2022.

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Del Rosario spearheaded last Saturday the turnover of 250 permanent housing units in Pamayandeg sa Ranao Residences at Dansalan, Barangay Kilala, and Mipantao Gandongan in coordination with the National Housing Authority, United Nations-Habitat, and the government of Japan. For this, he earned the effusive praise of Mr. Duterte, who said the TFBM’s work was “allowing the rays of hope to light up the darkness that once enveloped the city of Marawi.”

Maranao leaders, however, did not share the officials’ optimism, lamenting that they have “lost count” of the times their hopes of finally going back home and resuming their lives have been cruelly dashed. “We’ve [run] out of words to describe our frustrations,” said Drieza Lininding, chair of the Moro Consensus Group (MCG).

Lininding revealed that the TFBM had changed no less than 10 times the target completion date of the infrastructure facilities, which was a condition set before residents could go back to ground zero of the siege, or the “most-affected area” in the center of the city. As things stand, MCG members doubt that they will be able to go back before the end of Mr. Duterte’s term; the more likely scenario they see is that the TFBM will “possibly be walking out of it unfinished.”

That pessimism is rooted not only in the drawn-out, much-delayed rebuilding of Marawi but also in the shabby treatment its survivors have suffered. City Prosecutor Ibrahim Mimbalawag, writing in a social media post, said the voices of the displaced “are left unheard and the needs of IDPs (internally displaced persons) mostly ignored and downplayed … [Instead], the voices of those who benefited and are benefiting from the Marawi [rehabilitation], especially those who handle the funds [of the rehabilitation], are trying to cover up the lapses to make it look that the rehabilitation is on the right track.”

For Lininding and his group, “It is clear now that they continue to lie to us and deceive the public on the real status of the Marawi rehabilitation. They did not care for our welfare. They deprived us of our basic rights. They did not ask for our consent nor consulted with us.”

Proof of the government’s continuing neglect is that some 100,000 families are still unable to go home, four long years after the so-called liberation of the city. “They did not liberate Marawi. In fact, they occupied Marawi and kept [us away from our homes],” said Lininding. Thus, “We are not giving up hope for our return, but not under the Duterte administration.”

And, he stressed, what happened in Marawi and how it was handled should be a major election issue among the Maranaos: “We want it to be a national issue during the elections. We will [see to it] that our colleagues will look for the Marawi agenda among the leaders that we will vote for in the next year’s elections.”

Will all the pleading and the threats of electoral backlash from aggrieved Maranao voters force the government to work double-time on Marawi? The administration has less than nine months to prove that its promise to “race against time” to rebuild the country’s lone Islamic city will not go the way of many other presidential promises: long on bombast but miserably short on actual accomplishment.

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