It’s about time. Almost five years since the 2017 Marawi siege that reduced the entire city to ruins following clashes between government forces and Islamic State-linked terrorists, President Duterte finally signed into law a measure meant to compensate Marawi residents rendered homeless by the street fighting and bombardments.
Despite the bluster of the President who promised to rebuild this predominantly Muslim city on the shores of the picturesque Lake Lanao, years passed with little to show for the rebuilding effort. Today, large sections of Marawi remain uninhabitable, with thousands of families still crammed in makeshift shelters and tents.
Last February, Task Force Bangon (Rise) Marawi chair and Housing Secretary Eduardo del Rosario said the city’s rehabilitation would be “90 to 95 percent finished” before Mr. Duterte steps down from office on June 30. That seems a hugely unrealistic, if not foolish, promise, given that little has been done so far to restore the Marawi City of old.
The newly-minted law only lays the groundwork for the compensation of those who lost property and lives as a result of the battle for Marawi. Republic Act No. 11696 creates the “Marawi Compensation Board,” a quasi-judicial body with members appointed by the President, that will determine who among the claimants have “damaged or demolished properties and possessions” that “cannot be recovered.” The law also requires the government, under international law, “to recognize the essence of providing reparation and compensation for persons and families whose rights were violated and whose economic, social, cultural rights were unfulfilled as a result of armed conflicts.”
Heirs of victims who died or were legally presumed dead can also avail of compensation, as can private property owners whose establishments, houses, and buildings were destroyed to make way for the recovery program. In all, 24 barangays are listed under the law as “main affected areas” during the war.
Even now, several roadblocks appear to threaten not just the operations of the compensation board, but the progress of rebuilding the city.
For one, the board will be composed of nine members and is required to have one doctor, one certified public accountant, one educator, and one licensed engineer among them. At least three members should also be lawyers—“preferably Maranao lawyers”—while two should be representatives of civil society organizations, including one who is either a Sharia lawyer or a Muslim traditional leader. The President appoints all the members “upon the nominations of traditional leaders and civil society organizations, among others.”
Right off, this reads like a recipe for disaster, given the tremendous jockeying for positions that will surely take place, and the influence-peddling that will be employed for the juiciest posts.
Given the sluggish pace with which the cogs of bureaucracy turn, it may take some time for the compensation board to be constituted, and its members, identified in the law, to be appointed. Then there is the matter of funding, which will have to wait until the passage of the annual budget toward the end of the year.
Not to mention the fact that the new government, which will take the reins of power on June 30, will have its hands full with the momentous task of reviving the pandemic-ravaged economy.
Still, this should be a matter of priority for the incoming administration, given how the people of Marawi have suffered long enough, their hopes of rebuilding their lives dashed time and again by bureaucratic blunders and irregularities.
One wonders, for one, why the Duterte administration had to wait until the last few weeks of its term before signing the measure into law. As it is, the new law presents a difficult challenge to whoever wins in Monday’s voting. The new president will, in effect, inherit a problem created by Mr. Duterte, starting from the moment that the President dared the Maute group terrorists to strike in Marawi as they had threatened earlier. At the same time, the new law creates a sense of frantic anticipation among people who have waited five years to resume their rudely interrupted lives.
The implementation of RA 11696 will indeed be a test for the new leadership, which will have to find a balance between people’s outsized, perhaps unrealistic, expectations, and the resulting frustration and disappointment should things turn awry.
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