Official ‘confident’ Marawi will get back on its feet before Duterte steps down

Official ‘confident’ Marawi will get back on its feet before Duterte steps down
Duterte admitted to ‘racing against time’ to rebuild Marawi City, which was left in ruins after a five-month bloody conflict with Daesh-linked militants in 2017. (AP)
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Updated 29 July 2021

Official ‘confident’ Marawi will get back on its feet before Duterte steps down

Official ‘confident’ Marawi will get back on its feet before Duterte steps down
  • Displaced residents ask Philippines leader to make good on his promise and rebuild war-torn city during last months of presidency

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.

Taliban face uphill battle in efforts to speak at UN meeting

Taliban face uphill battle in efforts to speak at UN meeting
Updated 29 sec ago

Taliban face uphill battle in efforts to speak at UN meeting

Taliban face uphill battle in efforts to speak at UN meeting
UNITED NATIONS: The new rulers of Afghanistan have an uphill battle in their efforts to be recognized in time to address other world leaders at the United Nations this year.
The Taliban are challenging the credentials of the ambassador from Afghanistan’s former government and asking to speak at the General Assembly’s high-level meeting of world leaders this week, according to a letter sent to the United Nations.
The decision now rests with a UN committee that generally meets in November and will issue a ruling “in due course,” the General Assembly’s spokeswoman said Wednesday.
UN officials are confronting this dilemma just over a month after the Taliban, ejected from Afghanistan by the United States and its allies after 9/11, swept back into power by taking over territory with surprising speed as US forces prepared to withdraw from the country at the end of August. The Western-backed government collapsed on Aug. 15.
In cases of disputes over seats at the United Nations, the General Assembly’s nine-member credentials committee must meet to make a decision. Letters from Afghanistan’s currently recognized UN ambassador, Ghulam Isaczai, who represents the former government, and from Taliban Foreign Minister Ameer Khan Muttaqi, are before the committee, assembly spokeswoman Monica Grayley said.
“Only the committee can decide when to meet,” Grayley said.
The committee’s members are the United States, Russia, China, Bahama, Bhutan, Chile, Namibia, Sierra Leone and Sweden.
Afghanistan is listed as the final speaker of the ministerial meeting on Monday, Sept. 27, and if there no decision by then, Isaczai, Afghanistan’s currently recognized UN ambassador, will give the address.
When the Taliban last ruled from 1996 to 2001, the UN refused to recognize their government and instead gave Afghanistan’s seat to the previous, warlord-dominated government of President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was killed by a suicide bomber in 2011. It was Rabbani’s government that brought Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of 9/11, to Afghanistan from Sudan in 1996.
The Taliban have said they want international recognition and financial help to rebuild the war-battered country. But the makeup of the new Taliban government poses a dilemma for the United Nations. Several of the interim ministers — including Muttaqi — are on the UN’s so-called blacklist of international terrorists and funders of terrorism.
Credentials committee members could also use Taliban recognition as leverage to press for a more inclusive government that guarantees human rights, especially for girls who were barred from going to school during their previous rule, and women who weren’t able to work.
The Taliban said they were nominating a new UN permanent representative, Mohammad Suhail Shaheen, the UN spokesman said. He has been a spokesman for the Taliban during peace negotiations in Qatar.

Pakistani tabla ‘czars’ pay tribute to Saudi Arabia with rendition of national anthem

Pakistani tabla ‘czars’ pay tribute to Saudi Arabia with rendition of national anthem
Updated 52 sec ago

Pakistani tabla ‘czars’ pay tribute to Saudi Arabia with rendition of national anthem

Pakistani tabla ‘czars’ pay tribute to Saudi Arabia with rendition of national anthem
  • Riyan, 11, and Isaac, 9, spent two months perfecting the South Asian-style performance as their ‘gift’ to the Kingdom

ISLAMABAD: Two young Pakistani musicians who have gone viral in recent years for their tabla skills and are popularly known as the “Czar Brothers” have paid tribute to the founder of Saudi Arabia by singing the Kingdom’s national anthem to the beat of the classical Indian drum.

A video of the performance is to be released on Saudi Arabia’s National Day, which falls on Sept. 23 each year and marks the 1932 renaming of the Kingdom of Nejd and Hejaz to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by the royal decree of King Abdulaziz.

Riyan, 11, and Isaac, 9, were encouraged by their father, Dr. Shehrezad Zaar, to start learning the words of the anthem and to practice playing it on the tabla at the beginning of this year. Zaar is of Russian ancestry on his father’s side and prefers to spell his sons’ surname as Czar.

“We were a bit shocked when our music instructor asked us to sing the anthem in Arabic,” Riyan told Arab News in an interview this week.

“It was midnight when I wrote down the verses of the Saudi anthem and started memorizing them. It took me a few weeks to commit them to my memory, though the accent required more practice.”

Riyan said that it took the duo two months to get the rhythm and pace of the anthem in sync on the tabla and perfect their vocals. “When the two things synchronized, we felt that we were soaking up Saudi culture,” he said.

The boys’ father, a Lahore-based medical professional, said the performance was “a gift from the people of Pakistan to the people of Saudi Arabia.”

“We decided to dedicate it to King Abdulaziz, the father of the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” he told Arab News in an interview, adding that he wanted his children to perform the anthem since the Kingdom occupied a special place in the hearts of Muslims across the world. 

Saudi Ambassador to Pakistan Nawaf bin Said Al-Malki is presenting a souvenir in Islamabad on September 21, 2021, to Pakistani brothers Riyan and Isaac Czar who sang the Saudi national anthem on local instruments and dedicated it to King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud. (Photo courtesy: Dr. Shehrezad Zaar)

The performance was conceived as part of a broader project that Zaar has been working on. He explained that the project, known as the “Imran Khan Leadership Institute of the Founding Fathers of the World,” will see his sons perform the national anthems of various countries with the aim of highlighting the leadership qualities of their respective founding fathers.

The institute has already compiled a booklet on the lives of 93 historical personalities from different countries.

For the musical composition of the Saudi anthem, Zaar consulted with Rustam Fateh Ali Khan, a scion of the famous Patiala Gharana, a school of Indian classical music. Khan is also the music teacher for Zaar and his sons.

Speaking to Arab News, Khan said it was his idea to render the anthem on the tabla, saying the entire team had worked on the project with “love and dedication.”

“It is the first time the Saudi anthem has been sung in a traditional South Asian style,” he said. “No one has ever done it before.”

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special assistant on the Middle East and interfaith harmony, Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi, said the project reflected the love of the Pakistani people for the Kingdom and its leadership.

“This is a beautiful gift from the Pakistani people on the occasion of the Saudi National Day,” he said. “It shows the love and affection of our people for the Kingdom.”


Philippines’ Duterte renews call to abolish kafala system

Philippines’ Duterte renews call to abolish kafala system
Updated 37 min 40 sec ago

Philippines’ Duterte renews call to abolish kafala system

Philippines’ Duterte renews call to abolish kafala system
  • While Saudi Arabia has scrapped the controversial labor laws, Duterte says millions of OFWs continue to work in ‘unjust’ and ‘inhumane’ conditions elsewhere

MANILA: Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has renewed his call for the abolition of the kafala or sponsorship system in Gulf countries, saying it was “unjust” and permits the “exploitation” of millions of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

 In his speech at the 76th UN General Assembly on Wednesday, Duterte, who has advocated against the kafala system at the UN for much of his career, maintained that “nothing can justify its continued existence.”

The kafala gives employers in GCC countries plus Jordan and Lebanon almost complete control over migrant workers’ employment and immigration status and generally binds them to one employer.

 In 2009, Bahrain became the first GCC country to abolish the kafala system, followed by Saudi Arabia earlier this year.

 “Millions of Filipinos work abroad under the most difficult and inhumane circumstances. We call for the abolition of all structures that allow the exploitation and oppression of migrant workers,” Duterte said.

 “The kafala system is one such behemoth that chains the weak, the desperate, and the voiceless to an existence of unimaginable suffering. While reforms have been made, the kafala system must be dismantled — sooner rather than later — in the name of justice and basic decency,” he added.

 Under the controversial system, migrant workers must have a sponsor in the host country for a visa or worker’s permit to be issued.

 Duterte has previously said that the system led to “inhumane working conditions, nonpayment of wages, movement restrictions, healthcare denial, and sexual abuse of overseas Filipino workers.”

 In March, the Philippines welcomed the Kingdom’s move to end the notorious sponsorship system and replace it with new measures to ensure migrant workers in the private sector have improved job mobility and can switch jobs or leave Saudi Arabia without their employers’ consent.

The labor reforms will also allow OFWs to apply directly for government services, with all employment contracts documented online.

Dexter Garcia, a former OFW who spent a decade working as an office staff member with the Saudi Turf Company, returned to the Philippines in November last year, a few months before the Kingdom’s new laws became effective on March 14.

He said while he had “heard many stories of abuse, that was all in the past.”

“Before I left the Kingdom after my contract with my company ended last year, things were already starting to change. The Saudi government was already starting to relax the kafala,” he told Arab News.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs, as of January 2020, there are an estimated 2,221,448 Filipinos in the Middle East.

COVID-19 llama treatment shows positive signs

COVID-19 llama treatment shows positive signs
Updated 22 September 2021

COVID-19 llama treatment shows positive signs

COVID-19 llama treatment shows positive signs
  • Spray uses “nanobodies” produced by llamas, camels when they get an infection
  • Immunologist: “It’s very promising” and “exciting”

LONDON: A treatment derived from a llama has shown great promise in the fight against COVID-19. 

The product is a treatment made of “nanobodies,” which are simpler versions of antibodies, produced by llamas and camels when they get an infection.

Scientists have said it could be transformed into a simple nasal spray to treat early COVID-19 infection.

Prof. James Naismith described nanobodies as “fantastically exciting,” saying COVID-19-infected rodents treated with the spray had totally recovered within six days.

Public Health England has said it is looking at the “most effective SARS-CoV-2 neutralising agents” it has ever tested, and it could be used in human tests soon. 

The virus-specific nanobodies can attach to viruses and bacteria that invade the human body. It acts as a form of warning, allowing the rest of the body’s immune system to prepare to destroy the nascent infection. 

These nanobodies found by the UK researchers in llamas were shown to bind particularly tightly. “That’s where we had some help from Fifi the llama,” said Naismith.

Fifi was vaccinated with a tiny, non-infectious piece of the viral protein. The researchers then recovered and isolated the strongest nanobodies in a sample of the llama’s blood. 

From the sample of the potent nanobodies, the researchers were able to grow large quantities of its best molecules.

Prof. Sheena Cruickshank, an immunologist from the University of Manchester, said the new development is “exciting but still quite early.”

She added: “We need more data on efficacy and safety before we move to human trials. However it’s very promising nonetheless, and the fact it may be cheaper and easier to administer is a plus.

“COVID-19 will be, unfortunately, with us for a while yet, so more treatments will be needed.”

Naismith said: “Not all of the world is being vaccinated at the same speed. And there remains a risk of new variants capable of bypassing vaccine immunity emerging.”

German FM says Taliban ‘show’ at UN would serve no purpose

German FM says Taliban ‘show’ at UN would serve no purpose
Updated 22 September 2021

German FM says Taliban ‘show’ at UN would serve no purpose

German FM says Taliban ‘show’ at UN would serve no purpose
  • UN credentials committee is reviewing a request from the Taliban to address the General Assembly
  • "To schedule a show at the United Nations won't serve anything," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters

UNITED NATIONS, United States: Germany on Wednesday voiced opposition to the Taliban’s request to address the United Nations, saying the “show” by Afghanistan’s new rulers would serve no purpose.
The UN credentials committee is reviewing a request from the Taliban to address the General Assembly on behalf of Afghanistan, which is still represented at the world body by the ambassador from the government that collapsed last month.
“To schedule a show at the United Nations won’t serve anything,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.
“What’s important are concrete deeds and not just words, including on human rights and in particular the rights of women and on an inclusive government and distancing from terrorist groups,” he said.
Maas said it was important to communicate with the Taliban, but said: “The UN General Assembly is not the appropriate venue for that.”
A senior US official suggested that the credentials committee, which includes the United States, would not make a decision before the General Assembly ends on Monday.
“It will take some time to deliberate,” the official said.
No nation has recognized the Taliban, whose brutal 1996-2001 regime enjoyed recognition from only three countries — Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.