DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 23 May) — A resolution has been filed before the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security to conduct an investigation into the circumstances that led to the Marawi Siege, the “longest armed conflict in the country’s recent history,” with the end in view of “instituting policies to ensure that past shortcomings, if there are any, will not be repeated, so similar circumstances can be avoided and or better dealt with in the future.”
Senator Antonio Trillanes filed Senate Resolution No. 743 on Wednesday, exactly a year after the Marawi Siege began, noting that there should be “joint efforts between the Department of National Defense and other government agencies to assess the lessons, including lapses on the part of the government, why the battle between the government forces and the terrorists lasted for five months.”
Clashes between government forces and the IS-inspired Maute Group and its allies started on May 23 and all combat operations were ordered “terminated” by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on October 23. A week earlier, on October 17, President Duterte declared Marawi “liberated from the terrorist influence,” a day after Hapilon and Omar Maute were killed.
Killed during the May 23 to October 23 siege, according to Col. Romeo Brawner, Deputy Commander of Joint Task Force Ranao, were 166 soldiers and police; “more than 1,800” wounded in action; “between 1,000 to 1,100 Maute-ISIS” killed; 1,771 civilians rescued; and “47 civilians killed by the Maute.”
The Department of Health in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao listed 39 evacuee deaths as of October 10, 2017. Of the 39, 21 were aged five and above and 18 were below five years old. Of the 21, six were home-based and of the 18, four were home-based.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) reported 77,000 families or around 350,000 persons displaced from Marawi and neighboring cities.
Trillanes, a former Navy officer, noted that months before the siege, government “knew about the impending crisis,” that Duterte “even challenged the Maute group to burn Marawi” but despite these, government “was not able to prevent the conflict.”
Trillanes also filed Senate Resolution No. 742, urging the Senate Special Committee on Marawi City Rehabilitation, to “look into the status of the reconstruction plans, and relief and rehabilitation for Marawi City, particularly on matters relating to livelihood and the case of ‘bakwits’ or internally displaced persons “with the end in view of ensuring that the government, through the Task Force Bangon Marawi, will be able to deliver on its commitment to prioritize the post-disaster recovery of Marawi City.”
The Senate committee was created to monitor the progress of rehabilitation efforts in the city.
Trillanes said government has yet to present a comprehensive plan on how it intends to rehabilitate the city and assist the displaced population.
“Worse, its efforts are hampered by a number of issues, from questionable contractors that would rebuild the city, to displacement or land grabbing fears of the affected residents,” he added.
The Task Force Bangon Marawi has actually prepared a Bangon Marawi Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Recovery Program (BMCRRP) which covers the areas outside Ground Zero, the 250-hectare former main battle area between government forces and the Maute Group (now referred to as MAA or Most Affected Area). A separate plan is presently being negotiated for Ground Zero, a joint venture agreement with the Bagong Marawi Consortium composed of five Chinese and four Filipino firms, if no one challenges its proposal.
All together, the rehabilitation cost is around 75 billion pesos, around 17 to 20 billion of that for Ground Zero, according to Housing Secretary and TFBM chair Eduardo del Rosario.
Del Rosario told MindaNews last week that the BMCRRP will be presented to the Cabinet for final approval in early June while groundbreaking in Ground Zero would be held after Ramadan. The tentative date he mentioned was June 16 but it will likely be shortly after as the month-long Ramadan began on May 17.
Trillanes’ filing of the two resolutions came a day after President Rodrigo Duterte told the crowed attending the 120th anniversary of the Philippine Navy that the intelligence information on the Maute Group and the Abu Sayyaf’s Hapilon in Marawi “came very fast that there was a buildup. And I said for all of its — the shortsightedness maybe I — it falls upon my shoulders to bear the burden. I and I alone should be responsible for that.”
“We had a very sad experience in the Marawi siege. And we all know and — that we have fallen short in some respects the way it was handled. I assume full responsibility,” the President said.
“I did not anticipate or even guess that there would be so much ordnance and that the fight (would take) us about four months to finish,” he said.
Lorenzana at the press conference aired live from Moscow at 11 p.m. (Manila time) on May 23, 2017, said he did not think there was a “lapse of intelligence,” but “it’s just appreciation of the intelligence that was lacking there.”
Drieza Lininding of the Moro Consensus Group welcomed the Senate investigations and several Meranaws, like Lininding, had changed their profile photos on Facebook to a meme declaring “I support Senate inquiry on the Marawi siege.”
Lininding said the siege “left many questions than answers.”
He lamented that Meranaws “are being blamed for our own misery” and that they “took all the beating.”
“Now is the time for us to be heard. This is not a blame game but after all our losses and devastation of our beloved city, we deserve the truth not only us affected Meranaws but the families of slain and wounded Philippine soldiers and police,” Lininding added.
Reacting to Lininding’s FB post, Pangnal Datu Ramos wrote: “we went even to the extent of not only requesting a formal Senate inquiry into the Marawi Siege but for the creation of a Truth Commission to find out the real truth behind the siege!”
Mohammad Ali Taher Lucman said a Truth Commission is the “genuine answer” to uncover the brains behind the siege. Lucman proposed the Commission be composed of “at least one representative from Ulama group, one from professional group, one from the opposition and two from the administration.”
For Samira Ali Gutoc of the Ranao Rescue Team, the Senate inquiry is “long awaited to avoid a future disaster like Marawi.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)