Delayed Marawi rehab: ‘A thousand days too long’
On the third anniversary of the Marawi Siege, Vice President Leni Robredo called on concerned government agencies to speed up the rehabilitation of the city, saying three years of neglect and inaction were “a thousand days too long” for its people to live in uncertainty.
Robredo pointed to the urgency of rebuilding Marawi amid the COVID-19 pandemic since its displaced residents who live in cramped evacuation centers were more vulnerable to infection.
“Any outbreak in these tightly packed communities will increase the risk for all of us, and affect a public health system that is already under tremendous strain,” Robredo said in a statement on Saturday.
On May 23, 2017, hundreds of militants linked to the Islamic State attacked government forces and occupied many parts of the city, triggering the worst gun battles in the country since World War II.
At least 165 soldiers and police, over 900 Maute fighters and at least 45 civilians were killed in five months of fighting.
‘3 years of inaction’
According to reports from the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 77,170 families, or 353,921 individuals, from Marawi and neighboring municipalities were displaced by the fighting. More than 200,000 of them were from Marawi alone, based on figures from the Philippine Statistics Authority.
As of April 2020, 25,355 families, or 126,775 individuals, are still displaced in different parts of the Lanao provinces and Marawi.
“Three years of inaction and neglect in Marawi is a thousand days too long,” Robredo said. “We call on all concerned agencies to accelerate their actions while exercising full transparency.”
The government prevented the immediate return of Marawi’s residents because the military was still completing the dangerous and time-consuming task of clearing the devastated city of unexploded bombs or booby traps left by retreating militants.
As early as a month after the siege began, President Duterte already created the interagency Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM) to coordinate efforts to rehabilitate the city.
Headed by Housing Secretary Eduardo del Rosario, TFBM drafted a rehabilitation blueprint, facilitated debris clearing, provided temporary shelters and oversaw various projects to pave the way for those displaced to return home.
Today, however, not a single family has been brought back to the war-ravaged area, fueling the clamor to change the TFBM leadership.
In October 2019, Del Rosario declared the center of the city free of bombs and cleared of debris, a signal for infrastructure projects to start.
However, construction has not yet commenced. Government earmarked P2.1 billion for debris clearing work.
‘Better handled’ by BTA
Drieza Lininding of the Moro Consensus Group said the TFBM would be “better handled” by the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) than national agencies. He noted that the BTA had a special committee on Marawi whose members included several Maranaos.
“Actually, even before the COVID-19 crisis, we have long been on lockdown in Marawi. It has been three years already,” Lininding said. “That is the longest lockdown in the world.”
Amenodin Cali, a community development worker and convener of Reclaim Marawi Movement, said the prolonged displacement was unraveling the social fabric of the Maranaos.
“Residents of Marawi are not used to life as evacuees. Rather, it is them who host relatives and friends who evacuate to Marawi due to wars and conflicts in their communities,” Cali told the Inquirer.
According to Roderick Ibañez, manager of the National Housing Authority’s (NHA) Marawi rehabilitation project, 3,802 temporary shelters have been completed and 1,250 more would be finished by the end of August. Each costs P200,000.
Ibañez said work was affected by the health crisis but he expected construction to go full blast by June.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan, the opposition Liberal Party president, said he supported a bill to provide compensation to all Marawi residents affected by the fighting, private schools, hospitals and other organizations providing essential services.
He also backed the proposal for the government to formally team up with nongovernmental organizations which could act as a monitoring group that would regularly report to Congress on the status of the rebuilding of the city.
Marcos cites ‘lure of rebellion’
Proadministration Sen. Imee Marcos also supported the return of displaced Marawi residents, saying it would prevent them from being lured by extremists.
“Let them go home soonest, three years’ exile has been an eternity!” she said.
“The lure of rebellion is strong. International terrorist groups like Isis are reported to be recruiting disgruntled young Muslims with the promise of monthly salaries and aid to their families,” she added.
Marcos also pushed for her bill to transfer as a grant parts of a military reservation in Marawi to residents who lost their homes and businesses during the siege.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque on Saturday reported that the 2,911 of the NHA’s “transitional shelters” were occupied as of January.
“We thank the people of Marawi for their patience and support to the government as we are also grateful to our partners and allies for continuously working with the administration to ensure Marawi’s successful rehabilitation,” he added.
—WITH REPORTS FROM PATRICIA DENISE M. CHIU, LEILA B. SALAVERRIA, RYAN ROSAURO, SHEILA MAE DELA CRUZ AND INQUIRER RESEARCH
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