The Philippine Daily Inquirer
Sept 23, 2017
The crisis in Marawi City is one of the most serious threats to national security in recent memory. What the Duterte administration initially thought would be a short-lived distraction turned into a protracted battle between government troops and the Maute group allied with the Islamic State. Last Sunday, the military announced the capture of the command center of the Mautes who have holed out in Marawi for nearly four months, during which time airstrikes were continuously launched in an effort to drive them out. In the process, the city was devastated: The bombings and gun battles destroyed houses, buildings, mosques and other important infrastructure.
Since May 23 when hundreds of armed Maute fighters occupied the “Islamic City,” more than 800 government soldiers, extremists, and civilians have been killed and tens of thousands forced to flee their homes and businesses. Now, as the military starts the “winding up” process, it is time to think of reconstruction as well as the need to help the nearly 200,000 residents displaced by the fighting.
President Duterte earlier promised to provide P20 billion to rehabilitate Marawi and restore it to its former glory. That figure has since changed. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, when asked during a Senate hearing how much would be needed for Marawi’s rehabilitation, pegged the amount at P50 billion. In a press briefing in Malacañang days later, he pointed out that when he traveled to Marawi with the President, they saw that the destruction was “really massive” and thought P50 billion would not be enough.
The Department of Budget and Management has earmarked P5 billion in 2017 and P10 billion in 2018 for the rehabilitation program. An additional budget will also be provided in 2019. But these allocations will not be sufficient. In financing the reconstruction, the administration can tap the generosity of the international community despite the President’s frequent criticism of foreign governments for commenting on his bloody war on drugs. Some countries have in fact pledged financial assistance. Australia promised to give P1 billion, the United States said it would provide P730 million, and Japan and Thailand P100 million each. The European Union also committed P49 million, and China said it would give P70 million for the wounded soldiers and P15 million for the rehabilitation process. The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank have also promised to help. The administration can likewise seek financial assistance from the more affluent Muslim countries.
Moving forward, an important aspect is the appointment of an overseer for the reconstruction of Marawi. And in the crafting of the reconstruction plan, it should be very clear which agency will take the lead, with accountabilities clearly defined. The process of rebuilding—from the ground up for most infrastructure in Marawi—should follow a master plan that will restore the city’s charm before the Mautes stormed in. So far, a number of agencies and public institutions want to have a part in the reconstruction effort, including the local government units there. Even the Senate has formed a committee to assess any rebuilding plan.
Task Force Bangon Marawi, put up by the President last June in Administrative Order No. 3, should take on this role. While the task force is headed by Lorenzana and includes the Armed Forces chief of staff, it also has as members the secretaries of nondefense departments critical in the rebuilding process—Public Works, Budget and Management, Information and Communications Technology, Health, Education and Energy.
What the administration will do from hereon will be important to the fate of Marawi and the thousands of residents who fled the fighting and who will be coming back to a nearly flattened city. Drafting a very clear reconstruction program and identifying the person in charge will be a good start to rebuild Marawi.