WITH the fighting in Marawi City in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao already “confined” to just less than 1sq km spanning two villages, the national government-led post-conflict needs assessment (PCNA) for the embattled Islamic city is finally gaining ground.
The PCNA, led by the Office of the Civil Defence (OCD), will become the basis for the Marawi Comprehensive Recovery and Rehabilitation Plan (MRRP).
OCD Assistant Secretary Kristoffer James Purisima, spokesman of Task Force Bangon (Rise) Marawi, said those who will carry out the PCNA have undergone a four-day training early this month.
The team will consist of some 200 people from different national government agencies, affected local government units and community stakeholders.
“For the ways forward of the PCNA, a deployment plan is being prepared for the human recovery needs assessment and the deployment shall begin (today) Aug 8,” Purisima said at the Mindanao Hour briefing.
The human recovery needs assessment will include not only those in the 75 evacuation centres, but also the internally displaced individuals (IDPs), locally called “bakwits,” who have sought refuge with their relatives, the official said.
Over 400,000 civilians have been displaced by the conflict in Marawi, which erupted on May 23 between government forces and the Islamic State-inspired Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups.
President Rodrigo Duterte placed Mindanao under martial law for 60 days hours after the clashes erupted. The Philippine Congress later extended it until Dec 31, 2017.
Purisima suggested it would be easier for the PCNA team to conduct the human recovery assessment as they have already the initial list of IDP data surveyed by the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.
“We know where the IDPs are, most are home-based (staying with their relatives),” he said, adding the bakwits have been given Disaster Assistance Family Access Cards by the Social Welfare Department so they can access government aid.
The official did not give a timeline as to when the consolidated PCNA report, which includes the reconstruction and rehabilitation aspects, would be completed.
“It really depends on the situation on the ground. We are beginning with what we can — with what we can assess, which is the human side. We’re going into the evacuation centres. We’ll go to areas on the ground we can go to already,” he said.
“We’re hoping we could go into the area, ground zero, so to say, in the soonest possible time,” Purisima said, noting this would depend on the clearance from the military.
Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla said government troops were doing their best to expedite the liberation of Marawi from the remaining 30 to 40 terrorist gunmen.
“In the current situation in Marawi, we still continue to concentrate on the remaining problematic area, which is less than one square kilometre within the heart of the commercial business district,” Padilla said
“Our forces are all in place and are doing their best to fulfill their mandate of liberating Marawi at the soonest time possible,” he added.
The official noted that military efforts to reclaim Marawi from the Maute Group are also hampered by the consideration on the safety of the hostages and the sniper fires from the enemies.
The terrorist gunmen are reportedly still holding some 100 civilians, including a Catholic priest, inside a mosque.
Padilla appealed to the displaced civilians to be patient because “as soon as the coast is clear, we shall declare it safe” for them to go back.
While many would apparently no homes to go back to based on pictures coming out of the war zone, the government has assured them of help. To those with unhabitable homes, the government vowed to provide them with socialised housing or extend financial assistance to those whose houses need minor repairs.
The government also abandoned plans to build a tent city in Marawi and neighbouring areas for the civilians displaced by the war. Instead, they will be housed in at least 1,000 temporary shelters to reduce crowding in evacuation centres as part of the initial phase of rehabilitation efforts for the war-ravaged city.
Marawi resident Samira Gutoc-Tomawis, co-convener of Ranao Rescue Team, lamented the uncertainty of going back home as the Marawi crisis entered Day 78 today, Tuesday.
“On our incoming 80th day of the Marawi crisis, the lingering question on when to return to Marawi remains unanswered. Another mortar incident in the outskirts of Marawi in the border with Marantaw town doused our hopes as bakwits to set foot back to our beloved cool sanctuary,” she said in a social media post.
Gutoc-Tomawis confirmed that civil society organisations have been tapped to participate in charting the recovery and rehabilitation of Marawi.
“Today, we gather as civil society in Iligan City to firm up participation in Task Force Bangon (Marawi),” she said.
Gutoc-Tomawis hailed the volunteers and non-government workers who worked without remuneration to help those affected by the Marawi crisis.
On August 4, Duterte visited the troops in Marawi for the second time to boost their morale and encouraged them to defeat the enemies to allow the return of displaced civilians to the city.
“I have to be here because I want all of you to know that… Mahal ko kayo (I love you). I hope you will be able to clean up Marawi City and get rid of the terrorists,” the President said in his speech.
Duterte said he is hopeful that the government will not lose more troops because of the ongoing battle in the locality.
The commander-in-chief’s second visit to the besieged city, just like the first, was unannounced. Officials only confirmed the visit when the President already left the area.
Duterte also reiterated his pledge of putting up a PHP50 billion (US$993 million) trust fund for the children of soldiers and police personnel.
Wearing on now for the third month, the war in Marawi has killed 122 military and police personnel and 45 civilians as of Monday’s data from the government.
Five more terrorist gunmen were killed, bringing their fatalities to 528, the data showed, adding that 603 firearms were recovered from them.