Marawi rehab update: Senate hearing’s “final solution:” meet with President Duterte

ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews / 22 February) – The public hearing of the Senate’s Special Committee on Marawi City Rehabilitation on Friday started an hour late and took all of two hours and four minutes, 39 minutes of that spent on introductions, acknowledgement of participants and opening statements of five senators, 17 minutes on the briefing by Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM) and ended at 5:07 p.m. with committee chair Senator Ronald ‘Bato’ dela Rosa declaring that the “final solution,” the “ultimate solution” was to meet with President Rodrigo Duterte.

“Wala tayong solusyon kundi yung imprimatur galing sa President para matapos na ito” (We don’t have solution but the imprimatur from President so the rehabilitation can be finished), dela Rosa said at the public hearing held at the gymnasium of the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology.

The Senate’s Special Committee on Marawi City Rehabilitation at the public hearing on 21 February 2020 at the Mindanao State University –Iligan Institute of Technology gym in Iligan City. Five senators were present: Ronald dela Rosa, committee chair; his two vice chairs, Francis Tolentino and Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go and Imee Marcos, and Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

The “final solution,” proposed by Senator Christopher Lawrence ‘Bong’ Go, committee vice chair, is a meeting on the first week of March in Malacanang, between President Duterte and heads of national government agencies involved in the Marawi rehabilitation, local government officials and leaders of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country’s lone Islamic city.

“So that once and for all,” Go said, the problems will be threshed out and solutions provided so Marawi’s rehabilitation can be completed within the remaining two years and four months of President Duterte’ s term.

It has been two years and four months since Duterte declared Marawi “liberated from the terrorist influence” on October 17, 2017 and two years and nine months since thousands of residents of Marawi fled their homes.

The Committee, according to the February 12 invitation sent by dela Rosa, was to conduct a public hearing and inquiry, in aid of legislation on Senate Resolution 66 filed by Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri on August 5, 2019, reconstituting the Special Committee that was created in August 2017 but failed to fulfill its mandate until the 17th Congress adjourned in June 2019; and Senate Resolution 29 filed by Senator Ralph Recto on July 24, 2019, for the committee to look into the status of the rehabilitation “and the utilization of funds for the purpose, with the end in view of ensuring that Marawi residents affected by the siege will benefit form the program.”

The senators did an ocular inspection of Ground Zero and the temporary and permanent shelter sites in other areas in Marawi City for two hours on Friday morning.

In his opening statement at the hearing, dela Rosa said the Committee held its organizational meeting and briefing on September 30, 2019 to carry out its mandate under Adopted Resolution No. 8 and to conduct an inquiry in aid of legislation “on the status of Marawi City rehabilitation and utilization of its funds” in accordance with Resolution 29 by Senator Recto and a similar resolution, 182 filed by Senator Imee Marcos on October 29 last year.

“It is our desire that the hearing will give clarity as to the detailed status of the rehabilitation and utilization of funds,” dela Rosa said.

“The Filipino people deserve to know the truth. Their questions must be answered,” Go said

Race against time

As complaints are mounting over the delayed return to the 250-hectare Ground Zero which used to be home to residents in 24 barangays, the limited time left in the Duterte administration and the spectre of the failures of the Yolanda rehabilitation from 2013 hounded the Committee members present – all five of them party-mates and allies of President Duterte — dela Rosa, Go, Marcos and Francis Tolentino who is also vice chair of the Committee, and Zubiri.

Three other members of the Committee were absent: Emmanuel Pacquiao and Aquilino Pimentel III and Risa Hontiveros, the lone opposition member.

“Marawi is a key to fight violent extremism,” Zubiri said in his opening statement, adding that “if we will not do our best in the rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts here, discontentment and disgruntlement will pervade in the air which will attract extremist elements.  We do not want that to happen to Marawi. Its people have suffered more than enough.”

“We don’t want another Yolanda here, where years after the devastation of Leyte, resettlement housing are still unfinished, or if they are fully constructed they are not livable or the people do not want to relocate there,” Zubiri explained.

“We don’t want President Duterte to leave a legacy for the people of Marawi, a legacy like Yolanda,” he stressed.

Fifty-one year old Mosinoma Miguel of Barangay Tolali in Marawi City l complains on February 21, 2020 that even if they have been told they can go home, they need money to repair their houses and electricity and water are still unavailable. MindaNews photo by FROILAN GALLARDO

Go said they want to know how the rehabilitation can be completed because “we don’t want the responsible officials to be negligent now and then put the blame on the President later on when his term ends.”

“Huwag po nating hayaang matulad ang nangyari sa Tacloban sa Marawi. Hindi istilo ni Pangulong Rodrigo Duterte na mag-iwan ng proyektong nakatiwangwang. Hindi kami papayag ng Pangulo na mangyari ito (Let us not allow Marawi to be like Tacloban. It is not President Duterte’s style to leave unfinished projects. The President and I will not allow this to happen),” he added.

Long process

Marawi Mayor Majul Gandamra explained the difficulties of getting funds released to the local government.

He reminded the public that the Task Force Bangon Marawi consists of 56 agencies.

There is a need, he said, for the President to intervene.

Go asked for suggestions on how to hasten the process, as he acknowledged the problem of passing through so many agencies for signatures, a process that he said Duterte detests.

“Dalawang taon na lang at apat ang natitira sa Pangulo” (The President has only two years and four months), Go repeated.

Gandamra replied the need for stronger powers for the executive branch to fast-track the downloading of funds to implementing agencies.

Secretary Eduardo del Rosario, TFBM chair, said to access Marawi rehab funds lodged with the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), implementing agencies submit to the Office of Civil Defense which will then elevate it to the NDRRMC then the Office of the President then to the Office of the Executive Secretary for approval

He recalled how last year, 1.9 billion pesos of funds were released to the Department of Public Works and Highways instead of directly to the implementing agencies, causing further delay.

IDPs await turn to speak

Tolentino said the committee did not conduct the hearing to find faults “but we are here to try to find solutions.”

He said he hopes members of the community could “propound uninhibited questions” to hasten the process of rehabilitation.

But the meeting ended with only a few voices heard from among the IDPs.

At 3:42 p.m., dela Rosa, addressing the invited leaders after the five senators’ opening statements, set the rule at “three minutes lang to accommodate everybody, then (we will call on) TFBM (Task Force Bangon Marawi)” but facing TFBM’s del Rosario who sat across him, he said “unless may importante kang, mahalagang sabihin.”

Del Rosario sought permission to show a powerpoint on updates from the TFBM, presented by Field Manager, Assistant Secretary Felix Castro. That took 17 minutes, leaving only 68 minutes for questions and interventions until dela Rosa suspended the hearing at 5:07 p.m.

The Committee had invited 63 resource persons, 28 of them from the national government, nine from the Bangsamoro region, eight from the local governments, three from the academe, and 15 from non-governmental organizations.

Because 56 minutes had been eaten up by introductions and opening statements and the TFBM briefing, only 68 minutes were left for “hearing” the voices of various sectors. Most of the time, however, was spent on questions from senators and answers from government officials, leaving only a few minutes for the IDPs themselves – for whom the rehabilitation efforts are intended – to say their piece.

Only five were able to speak – former Rep. Faysah Dumarpa, Norodin Lucman who helped save non-Moro residents trapped in the early days of the siege, an elderly man, the husband of a barangay official and a female representative of an IDP group who insisted on reading a portion of their position paper. Other IDP leaders who raised their hands repeatedly were not called at all.

Former Lanao del Sur Rep. Faysah Dumarpa tells the Senate’s Special Committee on Marawi City Rehabilitation during the public hearing on February 21, 2020 at the Mindandao State University in Iligan City that it has been nearly three years since May 23, 2017 but residents of Ground Zero in Marawi City have yet to return home. MindaNews photo by FROILAN GALLARDO–

Dumarpa noted that all the transitional or permanent shelters are outside Ground Zero. Addressing the Senators, she said: “I do not know if you have gone to the real Ground Zero. If you had gone to the center of Ground Zero your honors, there is nothing in Ground Zero.”

“Please, we want to go home in our homeland,” she said.

Dumarpa asked Go, whom she referred to as “second son” of President Duterte, to bring to his attention the appeals of the people of Marawi.

Go assured Dumarpa, “Ina, isusumbong ko kay ama” (Mother, I will tell father).

It is not clear how many IDP leaders will be invited to the Malacanang meeting in early March.

On Friday morning, displaced Marawi residents staying in Saguiaran, Lanao del Sur, staged a picket along the highway with placards and tarpaulins bearing messages to “let us go home” and in the afternoon in Iligan City, displaed Marawi residents marched from the Children’s Park to the MSU-IIT gym where the public hearing was held.

Reconstituing all land titles

Marcos drew cheers and applause when she expressed hope that they would all be home before the third anniversary of the siege on May 23 because “panahon na para umuwi ang bawat pamilya sa Lupang hinirang,” (It’s time for every family to return to their homeland), she said.

She questioned the use of rehab funds, why some funds had to be returned and some unauthorized by the Commission on Audit, and why funds donated by other countries were unaccounted for.

She also questioned the issue on land titles and why people who are supposed to return to Ground Zero cannot because “walang bahay, wlaang koreyente, walang tubig” (no houses, no electricity, no water).

“Ano ba ang nangyayari? Di namin maintindihan” (What is happening? We cannot understand), she said.

Displaced Marawi residents march in Iligan City from the Children’s Park to the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology gym on February 21, 2020, venue of the public hearing conducted by the Senate’s Special Committee on Marawi City Rehabilitation. MindaNews photo by FROILAN GALLARDO

Del Rosario said the permanent shelters are located outside Ground Zero because these are for IDPs who lived in danger zones inside Ground Zero and own no property there.

He said the free housing is for some 4,000 to 5,000 households.

He assured those who own lands in Ground Zero: “kung inyo ang lupa, titled or not, that will be yours. Ikaw pa rin babalik dyan” (if the land is yours, titled or not, that will be yours. You will return there).

But he explained that the coordinates of the land titles presented to them are different from the coordinates in the actual locations, hence, the move to have all land titles reconstituted to avoid conflict and new titles will be given to them that will reflect the correct coordinates of their lands.

He said there are also conflicting claims on ownership of land and buildings and “if we will allow them to go back, it will be a big problem.”

Marcos said reconstituting titles will be another long process. She said the Administrative Code allows the President to give away public lands for titling, as was done with the Mindanao State University in Marawi which was part of a military reserve, and other areas. “Outright titling” can be done in Marawi so the process won’t take long, she said.

She said it may take another 20 to 30 years for the land titling issue to be settled and “kung antayin natin yan, wala nang makakauwi (sa Marawi)” (and if we wait for that no one can return home to Marawi)) The crowd cheered and applauded again.

Del Rosario said there is a need to correct the coordinates so that in the future, there will be no multiple claims over one lot.

Dela Rosa told del Rosario that the committee understands his situation and the handicaps they are facing but “however difficult your job is, we want results and we want to see kung may nangyayari talaga (if something is really happening).

Tolentino stressed the need for the private sector to be present in the meeting in Malacanang “lalo na ang mga displaced” (especially the displaced residents).

He reminded del Rosario that his time with the Commission on Appointments is nearing and that he was giving him “advance tips” on how to present what TFBM has done, its timeline, its achievables and what has been achieved.

Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri announced he and the four other senators have committed to file on Monday their own version of the compensation bill for Marawi and that as Senate Majority Leader, he promised to “prioritize this measure for approval.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)