Manila says it’s on target for rebuilding war-torn Marawi but residents say progress slow

One of the most heavily damaged areas in the former danger zone, the main battle ground.

By Darlene Basingan

MARAWI CITY, NNA – The Philippine government says it is confident it will finish rehabilitation of war-torn Marawi City in Mindanao by 2021, two years after ISIS-inspired rebels laid siege there, but displaced residents say progress is slow.

The rebels, aiming to create a caliphate in Mindanao, sieged the southern capital leading to a five-month battle with government forces.

Fierce fighting left the city in ruins, particularly the 205-hectare area consisting of 24 of the 96 villages. More than one thousand people were killed, mostly rebels.

The Task Force Bangon Marawi in charge of rebuilding the country’s only Islamic city after it was declared liberated in October 2017 said the government is on track to finishing all the public facilities it planned to rebuild. Marawi is in the province of Lanao Del Sur in the newly-formed Bangsamoro Autonomous region.

“When we talked to UN experts, with the magnitude of this devastation, it would take about five to seven years before it could be rehabilitated,” TFBM head and Housing Chair Eduardo Del Rosario told NNA on the anniversary of the siege last week. “In our case, we can do that in less than four years,” he added.

However, not everyone in Marawi City is convinced about the government’s timetable, especially those with damaged property in the most devastated area, previously called the danger zone.

“I can say it’s a total failure because after two years, more than a year after Marawi City was liberated, we are still at the initial stage of the rehabilitation,” Drieza Lininding, who heads the Marawi City Moro Consensus group, told NNA in a telephone interview.

The government is still clearing the 24 most heavily damaged villages of unexploded bombs and debris. It aims to finish the first stage of the cleanup by the end of November and complete construction of all public facilities, such as roads and schools, by 2021.

The military is using dogs to sniff out unexploded bombs at the site of a former elementary school in Marawi City.

The war displaced more than 240,000 residents, and two years after the siege, about 16,3000 families from the most affected area still live in temporary shelters or with relatives in other areas, while 409 families remain in evacuation centers or “tent cities.”

Many want to return immediately but are forbidden to while the government clears unexploded ordnances. The government expects to have residents start returning to their damaged homes on July 1.

“it’s really hard. We had no money. We had no livelihood or job. We had nothing, even water or food. We were just depending on relief goods. Without it, we had nothing to eat,” recalled Norma Graciano, 53, who stayed for nine months at a tent city in Lanao Del Norte Province after her home was burned down in the war.

She now lives with her five children and six grandchildren in a 16-square-meter temporary shelter in Sagonsongan, outside Marawi City. She laments what she calls the “very slow” rehabilitation of her village.

Critics blame the delay on repeated changes in contractors, but the government says the clearing of unexploded ordnances and debris is the cause.

The 60.5-billion-peso ($1.2 billion) rehabilitation for Marawi will be funded primarily with a 35.1-billion-peso official development assistance loan from international organizations and countries, with the remaining funds sourced locally.

The government has already spent about 15 billion pesos on rehabilitation and humanitarian assistance.

“I think the main concern of the people is the promise before of a compensation and reparation for their damaged properties and buildings in the ground zero… Unfortunately, our hope to get compensation or reparation for our destroyed buildings and houses was [almost gone],” Lininding said, referring to the recent statement by the president that the government will not pay for rebuilding the houses of the “rich.”

Del Rosario noted that the Marawi Reparation bill in congress would provide compensation to affected residents for the repair of their homes and other buildings. However, the bill could now be delayed as the senators who were pushing for it did not win re-election.

“I do not feel the support of the administration senators and congressmen for the [bill],” Lininding said. “We are losing hope that there will be a Marawi compensation bill, but we are the hoping that the administration of Duterte will be the one to initiate it…since they are now the super-majority [in congress].”

NNA Report

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