DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 28 Oct) — After a dozen postponements, the recent ones due to unavailability of President Rodrigo Duterte, the groundbreaking rites in Marawi’s Ground Zero to signal the start of rehabilitation efforts in the most affected area will finally take place on October 30 but without the President.
Undersecretary Falconi Millar, Secretary-General of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council and head of the Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM) Secretariat told MindaNews on October 21 that the Presidential Management Staff (PMS) had confirmed Duterte’s attendance on October 31, exactly nine months and one day since his last visit to Marawi on January 30.
(CORRECTION: The last visit was not on January 30 but on May 11 when the President went to the Provincial Capitol Gym in Marawi City for the “presentation of surrendered firearms and distribution of assistance to ISIS-Maute group surrenderees.”)
But Millar on Sunday told MindaNews that the PMS had sent word that the President can’t make and that instead of October 31, the groundbreaking rites would be on October 30, to be led by Housing Secretary and TFBM chair Eduardo del Rosario.
No explanation was given about the change in date and Duterte’s absence. “As per PMS, PRRD (President Rodrigo Roa Duterte) would not be able to attend. Sec EDDR (Eduardo D. Del Rosario) to lead the groundbreaking,” Millar said in a text message to MindaNews.
“No explanation?” MindaNews asked. Millar replied: “No explanation.”
Millar said the groundbreaking will be held at 10 a.m. at the Rizal Park in Ground Zero, the former main battle area between government forces and the Islamic State-inspired Maute Group and its allies, now referred to as the Most Affected Area or MAA.
The five-month exchange of gunfire, bombings and aerial strikes. reduced to rubble many of the buildings and homes in the 250-hectare Ground Zero.
Before the siege began on May 23, 2017, it was the cultural and commercial district of the city and the province of Lanao del Sur and was home to some 27,000 residents (at least 11,000 home owners and the rest classified as “sharers and renters”) in 24 of Marawi’s 96 barangays.
The venue had been prepared for the supposed groundbreaking on October 17, the first anniversary of President Duterte’s declaration that Marawi City had been “liberated from the terrorist influence that marks the beginning of rehabilitation for the people.” It did not push through as the President was not available.
“Digong does not really care”
Reactions to the President’s no-show at the groundbreaking rites varied, particularly because Duterte, the first Mindanawon to lead the nation, has repeatedly declared he has Meranaw roots through his maternal grandmother.
“Digong does not really care for the Meranaw people, the Muslims in general. To him we do not exist,” retired Literature professor Dalomabi Lao Bula lamented.
Lanao del Sur Assemblyman Zia Alonto Adiong, spokesperson of the Provincial Crisis Management Committee during the five-month siege last year, told MindaNews it would have been better if the President showed up at the groundbreaking.
“The victims need reassurance that this administration will keep its promise that Marawi will be rehabilitated before the President steps down in 2022 and what better guarantee could we give to the people than the presence of the President on the exact day we’re all been waiting for?” Adiong asked, adding that having the President around “is a clear message that this administration is keeping Marawi reconstruction among its top priorities.”
For Prof. Acram Latiph, Executive Director of the Mindanao State University’s Institute for Peace and Development in Mindanao, the series of postponements and this latest announcement of a no-show is “a joke.”
“We really are not concerned about groundbreaking per se. Our main concern is the assurance of budget for Marawi Rebuilding. They can have 100 groundbreaking ceremonies but if there is no assured budget, it’s just a show. We prefer no groundbreaking but inclusion of Marawi Rebuilding in the General Appropriations Act 2019. To us that is the most important thing. Funds for Marawi Rebuilding must be of topmost priority for the Government.”
Drieza Lininding of the Moro Consensus Group said the Task Force Bangon Marawi “will never run out of excuses when it comes to rehabilitation of Ground Zero of now occupied Marawi.”
Lininding said this “only highlights the incompetence of the government to fast-track the rehabilitation.”
“Sad to note that Marawi is slowly being forgotten. If the Government cannot be certain on the date of groundbreaking, how much more on the plans? Until now the government is yet to show any definite blueprint on how to rehabilitate Marawi and where to get the fund. With President Duterte again not available for the groundbreaking, it only shows that Marawi is not among his priorities. In fact, every time he talks about Marawi, he talks about the soldiers and police welfare. Instead of worrying on how to help local residents, he talks about the housing for soldiers and police..” Lininding said.
Millar said the total cost for the entire MAA rehabilitation project is PhP 15 billion, inclusive of 3.05 billion for the entire debris management project.
Millar explained that the MAA has been classified into nine sectors “to allow optimum use of time for the rehabilitation.”
On October 21, Millar said that even before the groundbreaking, preliminary works on debris management in Sector 1 had started on October 19, undertaken by Finmat International Resources Inc.
The National Housing Authority board approved on October 3 the negotiated contract with Finmat for debris management of the first of nine sectors in the MAA for 75 million pesos. The first sector comprises only one barangay — Tolali.
Millar said the first five components of the MAA rehabilitation is to done through negotiated contract even as it was initially planned to be under a joint venture agreement.
He named the five components as debris management; site development plan with feasibility study; RROW (road right of way) acquisition; concrete road infrastructure with provision for bike and pedestrian lanes; and provision for underground utilities such as water, power and telecoms.
Asked what Finmat’s relationship is with PowerChina, the firm negotiating for a joint venture agreement after the failed negotiations in June with the China State-led Bagong Marawi Consortium, Millar told MindaNews on Saturday evening: “Finmat is supposedly the Filipino partner of PowerChina in the consortium.”
He explained that it is only Finmat that was awarded the debris management contract for Sector 1 and Finmat’s contract is only for Sector 1.
Contracts for the debris management in the eight other sectors as well as the four other components of the rehabilitation have yet to be awarded. “Still open to other contractors,” he said.
Asked what the status of PowerChina’s proposal is, Millar replied: “placed on hold pending NEDA ICC process.”
NEDA is National Economic and Development Authority while ICC is the Investment Coordination Committee composed of the Secretary of Finance as chair, the NEDA Director-General, as co-chair; and the Executive Secretary, the Secretaries of Agriculture, Trade and Industry, Budget and Management and the Governor of the Central Bank of the Philippines, as members.
On October 12, del Rosario told the Malacanang Press Corps that residents in Ground Zero will be able to return home by the second quarter of 2020. Earlier in April, del Rosario said they would be able to return first quarter of 2020.
By then the residents of Ground Zero would have been displaced from their homes for at least three years.(Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews