FRUSTRATION is mounting among internally displaced persons (IDPs) as the national government has yet to start the rehabilitation of ground zero in war-torn Marawi City, southern Philippines, some four months after it was liberated from the clutches of Islamic State-inspired militants.
Abdul Hamidullah Atar the Sultan of Marawi expressed dismay over the failure of the government to start the rehabilitation of the main battle zone that remained restricted to civilians.
He also criticised President Rodrigo Duterte for apparently giving priority to the construction of a second military camp in the devastated Islamic city than the rehabilitation of ground zero.
During his last visit to Marawi, Duterte disclosed plans to develop a second military camp there which will cost PHP400 million (US$7.7 million). It is slated for completion within two years.
“The government is prolonging the agony of the victims hardest hit by the war by not allowing them to enter and not immediately rehabilitating the main affected area,” Atar told Asian Correspondent.
The traditional Muslim leader rejected the construction of a second military camp, describing it as a “misplaced priority.” He suggested to the government to just strengthen or improve the facilities of the existing military camp.
Atar warned that Islamic militants might exploit the delayed rehabilitation work at ground zero to lure fresh recruits among the IDPs. He noted the Islamic militants could play up or portray the government as “neglectful in addressing the needs of the war victims” for delaying rebuilding of Marawi.
For his part, civic leader Drieza Lininding, chairperson of the Marawi-based Moro Consensus Group, lamented the government’s failure to present the rehabilitation plan for the consent of the war victims.
“Many Meranaws are growing impatient over the government’s slow or lack of plan on how to move forward with Marawi or inform us if there’s any (rehabilitation) plan,” he said in a statement.
Both Atar and Lininding cautioned the government to seriously consider the cultural sensitivities of the local Muslim population in the reconstruction work to avoid negative complications that Islamic militants could exploit to their advantage.
Retired military general Eduardo del Rosario, the government’s housing czar and head of Task Force Bangon (Rise) Marawi, recently told reporters that rehabilitation of Marawi’s ground zero was expected to begin this April.
The main battle area covered 250ha, straddling 24 villages with an estimated population of 11,000 families, he said. At least US$1.1 billion is needed to rebuild Marawi from the ashes of the five-month battle.
“Ground zero remains restricted to civilians because of the ongoing clearing operations by the military for unexploded ammunition and ordnances. After the military finishes the clearing operations, we will then start rehabilitating the 250 hectares,” he said.
Del Rosario noted an estimated three million tonnes of debris were left by the war, which could prolong the rehabilitation works. The government has projected the rehabilitation of Marawi will be completed in December 2021, a few months before the Duterte administration steps down from power.
Of the initial target of 1,100 transitional shelters as part of Marawi’s early recovery programme, 551 units have been completed as of late January, said del Rosario.
He noted the government plans to construct a total of 6,000 temporary housing units and another 3,000 permanent housing units that will be awarded to those whose houses were totally destroyed by the fighting.
The siege in Marawi that began on May 23 displaced over 350,000 individuals, many of whom continue to languish in evacuation centers or are staying with their relatives in neighboring areas.
Some 1,110 individuals, mostly Islamic militants belonging to the combined Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups, were killed in the battle, which the government terminated in October.
The urban warfare tested the mettle of Filipino troops who for decades have been used to jungle fighting with various rebel groups in the country.
Owing to the Marawi siege, Duterte placed the entire Mindanao under martial law that remains effective until the end of 2018.