MANILA: The head of a task force leading rehabilitation efforts in the Philippines’ southern city of Marawi said on Wednesday he was confident that the war-torn region would “rise again” before President Rodrigo Duterte steps down from office in June next year.
This follows Duterte’s comments during his final state of the nation address (SONA) on Monday when he admitted to “racing against time” to rebuild the city, which was left in ruins after a five-month bloody conflict between government forces and Daesh-linked militants in 2017.
“Rebuilding a better Marawi remains today still not completed,” Duterte said as he called on authorities to hasten reconstruction efforts.
“To Task Force Bangon Marawi (TBFM), we need to race against time. And you have to finish the necessary work to rehabilitate the war-torn city and bring its displaced families back home,” he added.
Over 100,000 residents were forced to flee their homes at the height of the conflict that left an estimated 1,200 people dead.
Four years after Duterte announced the liberation of Marawi, the only city in the Philippines with a Muslim majority, and set up TBFM, many displaced residents continue to live in squalid conditions in temporary shelters.
TBFM was given a deadline until 2021 to get the city back on its feet, with its head, Eduardo Del Rosario, saying on Wednesday that reconstruction of the city would be completed within 11 months of Duterte’s presidency.
“On behalf of TFBM and our 56 implementing agencies, I would like to assure our president and our Maranaw brothers and sisters that we will complete the rehabilitation of all major infrastructures in Marawi City within his administration,” Del Rosario, who is also the Housing Settlements and Urban Development secretary, told Arab News.
He added that the overall rehabilitation work was “70 to 75 percent complete,” while more projects will conclude by December as per the master development plan.
“We have already awarded 279 permanent shelters since February, and two mosques inside the most affected area have been inaugurated,” Del Rosario said, adding: “More housing units will be awarded soon while other projects are scheduled to be inaugurated in the coming months.”
The TBFM head acknowledged that the limitations posed by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and heavy rains in Marawi in the past few months had slowed the rebuilding process but stressed that “rehabilitation remains on track.”
“We are committed to finishing all public infrastructures within the term of President Duterte,” he said.
Earlier, a statement released by his office said that Del Rosario had been conducting monthly inspections of the rehabilitation work in Marawi since construction went into full swing in July 2020.
In his recent visit to the city last week, the TFBM chief spearheaded an initiative to award 170 permanent shelters to displaced families.
Displaced residents from sectors 1 to 3 inside ground zero returned home in August last year, while those in sectors 4 to 7 can expect to come back by October after all the road network projects are completed, Del Rosario said.
“Returning internally displaced persons (IDPs) only need to secure the necessary permits from the city government to ensure their smooth return as there are overlapping claims to some lots. We need to establish legal ownership to avoid conflict,” he added.
Besides the housing units, work on a 19-km transcentral road; the Tolali village complex with a health station and an Islamic seminary; the fully-equipped Rorogagus health station; a central material recovery facility; the Lilod Guimba, Banggolo and Mapandi bridges; and the Disomangcop Mosque has been completed as well.
“This is in addition to the sustained livelihood and other assistance programs being implemented by various government and non-government organizations,” the TFBM chief said.
Despite the assurances, however, many affected families expressed dissatisfaction over the government’s recovery efforts.
Rumblings about massive delays, poor planning and the lack of consultation, plus allegations of corruption, have hounded the government since day one of the initiative.
In the first week of July, a newly established coalition of 15 civil society organizations (CSOs) and alliances in Marawi called on both houses of Congress to expedite the passage of the Marawi compensation bill.
They also urged the president to extend his unequivocal support for the compensation in his final SONA speech.
Much to their disappointment, however, Duterte made no mention of the Marawi compensation bill in his speech.
“This is our plea to our president and lawmakers — to certify the passing of the compensation bill as urgent, so that we might have some justice for what happened in Marawi,” peacebuilding NGO International Alert Philippines wrote in an email to Arab News, quoting Ding Cali, member of the newly established CSO Marawi Compensation Advocates (CSO-MCA) and director of the Kalimudan sa Ranao Foundation.
Meanwhile, Saripada Pacasum Jr., member of the Marawi Reconstruction Conflict Watch, challenged lawmakers by saying: “If you really care for us, prove it through this compensation bill. It’s not the only solution, but it will help alleviate our pain from the loss of lives and livelihood.”
Leaders of the organizations representing the evacuees said they wanted Duterte “to demonstrate that he is a man of his word” by delivering on his promise to rebuild Marawi and turn it into a prosperous city.
“President Duterte promised that Marawi will rise again as it was before. But how can it rise again if the people do not have support?” Sultan Hamidullah Atar of RIDO, Inc., said in a statement.
The coalition also urged TBFM to prioritize installing necessities such as water and electricity “rather than build structures that people do not need.”
IDPs, according to the CSO-MCA, have “absolutely no need for a modern convention center, sports stadium, or museum at present. The focus must be on the needs of the displaced people rather than just infrastructure alone.”
“The government is focusing too much on infrastructure facilities. Even if all government infrastructures were installed in ground zero, if there are no people because they have no resources [to go back], these would just be a waste. Who will use the cultural center and the mosques that they build if people cannot go back because the government has not supported them?” Atar said.
The coalition said a compensation package would enable IDPs to rebuild their lives and re-establish trust in the government. “Not all of the suffering experienced by the people of Marawi will be addressed by the bill, but it is a tool for them to bounce back,” Atar added.