OUR MARAWI: Reining in the local oligarchy: antidote for sustained rebuilding of Marawi

MARAWI CITY (MindaNews / 21 January) — The last few weeks saw encouraging signs the rebuilding of Marawi City is gaining momentum, principally the completion of several hundreds of transitional shelters for families displaced by the five-month long war against Islamic State-inspired militants.

As a Marawi resident, it is my hope that the rebuilding effort picks up more speed so that the lives of the city’s 200,000 plus people return to normalcy.

In this regard, I also hope that President Rodrigo R. Duterte gives due regard to a strategic issue that invariably tempers the sustainability of rebuilding efforts: the role of local oligarchs.

Journalist Ryan Rosauro, a veteran of Lanao del Sur news coverage, rightly observed in one forum that violent extremism in the province did not start in Butig in February 2016 (the first time the Maute group battled government forces). It has been boiling for a long time prior to that, thriving in the province’s landscape of acute political, social and economic deprivation.

Seven months ago, a multi-sectoral peace gathering in Cagayan de Oro City convened by the Bishops-Ulama Conference (BUC) aptly said: “A strong foundation (for rebuilding Marawi) would be the earnest push forward with the peace process between government and the Moro revolutionary organizations, signified by the implementation of the peace agreements, to the letter and spirit, especially the enactment of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).”

The conference participants further said: “For us, rebuilding Marawi must not only be about restoring physical facilities, houses and commercial establishments. We believe that building back better the Islamic City of Marawi requires a confluence of local and national government policies, and civil society initiatives that address the underpinnings of the conflict, which are social, economic and political marginalization and exclusion.”

The stranglehold by local oligarchs over Marawi City and the rest of Lanao del Sur is the source of marginalization and exclusion of the ordinary people.

Although a long shot formula, the Bangsamoro government envisioned under the proposed BBL seeks to cripple the hold of local dynasties over the regional assembly by instituting political party representation.

In the immediate, President Duterte must ensure that rebuilding funds and decision-making power are not entrusted to oligarchic interests. It must recognize that in the context of Lanao del Sur, local governments may not necessarily be good bearers of the people’s voices. Civil society groups might be the proper channels to get a good feel of grassroots sentiments.

I go back to the BUC conference statement: “For us, rebuilding Marawi means invigorating its socio-political infrastructure, ensuring that the operation of government agencies, whether local or national, truly serves the needs of the people. We believe that violent extremism will be effectively denied space in communities with responsive and responsible governance. Any roadmap for rebuilding must be based on the empowered voices of the Marawi residents.”

Lastly, at this stage of Marawi’s history, the city needs charismatic leaders who are able to effectively rally the people towards a common goal. One such leader is Omar “Solitario” Ali who is unfortunately unable to contribute his rightful share to the rebuilding efforts because he is eluding arrest for an unfounded accusation and manufactured malice peddled by local oligarchs that he is a druglord funneling money to extremists at the height of the Marawi siege.

I can only hope that government carefully vets these serious accusations, in the interest of truth, so that those truly guilty of supporting the extremists are unmasked.

I have known Solitario, a Maranao commoner, to be an upright person and leader who is deeply committed to advancing the welfare of his constituents and the interests of the wider community, even way ahead of his own.

I saw this many times during his incumbency as City Mayor of Marawi from 2001 to 2007. Even as a private citizen, he initiated several dialogues among religious leaders to calm down stirrings towards extremist preaching as well as find ways to stifle its spread among the young Muslim faithful. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. OUR Marawi is open to anyone who wishes to share his/her thoughts on what is happening in Marawi. Paladan A. Badron is a professor at the King Faisal Center for Islamic, Arabic and Asian Studies of the Mindanao State University in Marawi City)