NEWS FEATURE | Adding insult to injury: Pandemic stalls Marawi Rehab
By Lanz Ethan L. Galvan
More than three years after the siege that left over 1,100 deaths and thousands more displaced, war-torn Marawi has yet to find itself back on its feet as the pandemic has halted the city’s ongoing reconstruction effort. Along with it is the hope of its residents to rebuild their homes and lives.
A City in Ruins
According to Marawi City Mayor Marjul Gandamra, processing and issuing building permits stalled due to the city government’s skeletal workforce caused by tighter quarantine restrictions brought by the pandemic.
As of writing, the number of COVID-19 cases in Lanao del Sur reached 861. Since Marawi is the geographical and political center of Lanao del Sur, the provincial government sought to limit the movement of people through a Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ) order lasting from September 8 to October 31.
Nonetheless, Gandamra said that if restrictions were loosened, there would be smoother evaluation and processing of applications. Yet, prior to the lockdown, the city government processed only 482 out of the 2,100 pending building and business permit applications despite 1,838 of them having the necessary documents such as land titles for the areas people want to build on.
Conversely, Rehabilitation czar and Urban Development Secretary Eduardo D. del Rosario admitted that of the 17,000 families who lost homes in the Most Affected Areas (MAAs), only 86 houses have been greenlit for occupancy.
This was met with stiff criticism from vocal citizen’s group Marawi Reconstruction Conflict Watch (MRCW) who lamented that most of them were not allowed to return to their homes and rebuild their lives.
“There has been no compensation for the damages to our personal properties. Thousands of us remain in shelters and housing projects in dire conditions, with sanitation and the supply of basic utilities wanting,” the group added.
The Marawi Siege was a series of violent clashes in Marawi City between government forces and Islamic state-backed militias which lasted from May to October 2017, leaving thousands dead and homeless.
Race to 2021
Although the pandemic delayed reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts, del Rosario mentioned that his department is now working double time to finish at least 90% of the infrastructure projects on or before December 2021.
“We are on track and we are set to complete Marawi’s rehabilitation before the President steps down in 2022,” del Rosario said.
Moreover, he mentioned that a sense of normalcy and economic growth already returned to the war-torn city while assuring that public facilities within the MAAs would soon be restored.
In contrast, the MRCW stated that out of the ₱60.5 billion allotted for rehabilitation, only one-third or ₱22.5 billion had been disbursed.
With only 16 months remaining until the December 2021 deadline, the group stated that the dismal amount on top of issues on disbursement and absorptive capacity in the past paints a bleak picture for the residents of Marawi.
Furthermore, they emphasized how the slow progress of reconstruction further fuelled despair and frustration threatening the already fragile peace in Marawi.
Rebuilding lives and livelihood
Moro consensus groups urged the government to allow a dignified return of residents, some of whom suffered discrimination and economic hardship in their makeshift communities.
Under 3,500 permanent shelters are currently being built for the people of Marawi, 2,000 of which are from the government and 1,500 from the United Nations Human Settlements Program.
In this regard, del Rosario vowed that he remained committed to extending assistance to displaced residents despite earlier pronouncements that they sought to prioritize restoring public facilities first.
Apart from infrastructure, ₱47 billion of the Marawi Rehabilitation fund would also be used for rebuilding the city’s economy which was completely destroyed during the siege. Through partnerships between the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Social Welfare and Development, residents were given livelihood kits which they hope to expand with the proposed ₱166 million budget increase next year.
Social Welfare Undersecretary Felicisimo C. Budiongan noted that under the proposed budget Php 1 million each would be given to 120 associations of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in MAAs to kickstart their businesses.
The House Committee on Disaster Resilience approved on the committee level the Marawi Siege Compensation Act, a bill seeking to provide monetary compensation for those who lost their homes and properties to conflict.
According to Lanao del Norte First District Representative Mohamad Khalid Dimaporo, the amended version of the bill answered the concerns raised by other lawmakers regarding the source of funding for the project noting the ₱60 billion already earmarked for Marawi’s rehabilitation.
Both Gandamra and del Rosario hope that the proposed legislation passes Congress as it may provide a much-needed boost to the relief effort which may translate to more families being able to return to Marawi.
The Duterte administration was hit by critics over its slow response to the crisis in Marawi, not making even any mention of it during his last State of the Nation Address in July. Furthermore, Vice President Leni Robredo called on Duterte to take on a more fast-tracked response so that the people of Marawi may finally come home.