Amid COVID-19 pandemic, TFBM racing against time to complete Marawi rehab by yearend

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews / 16 February)– The Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM) is racing against time but is “confident” it could complete the reconstruction and rehabilitation of war-torn Marawi City as targeted on December 31, 2021, despite the delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Assistant Housing Secretary Felix Castro, Jr., manager of the TFBM Field Office, said.

Castro said at least P22.393 billion has been released for the recovery, reconstruction and rehabilitation of the country’s lone Islamic City,  which was devastated by the five-month war between government troops and Islamic State (IS)-aligned militants almost four years ago.

A portion of Marawi City’s Ground Zero with Lake Lanao in the background. MindaNews file photo. May 2018 by H. MARCOS C. MORDENO

For 2021, he said, P5 billion has been allotted for the recovery, reconstruction and rehabilitation of the country’s lone Islamic City, bringing the total rehabilitation fund to P27.393 billion.

The IS-aligned Maute Group, augmented by forces of the Abu Sayyaf Group under Isnilon Hapilon, seized Marawi on May 23, 2017 in a bid to establish it as a “wilaya” or province of the Islamic State in Southeast Asia.  Military officials later said the siege was supposed to have been undertaken at the start of the Ramadan on May 26 but a botched attempt by military and police forces to arrest Hapilon in a rented apartment in Basak Malutlut on May 23 was met with armed resistance, triggering what would be a five-month war.

President Rodrigo Duterte, who was on a state visit to Russia then, declared a 60-day martial law in the entire Mindanao barely eight hours after the firing began. At least 350,000 residents were forced to flee their homes.  He sought extension of martial law until December 31, 2017 but even after declaring Marawi’s “liberation”  in October 2017, Duterte sought and was granted by Congress two more extensions of martial law,  until December 31, 2019.

Duterte, the country’s first and only President from Mindanao and who claimed to have Meranaw roots, declared Marawi City on October 17, 2017 to have been “liberated from the terrorist influence that marks the beginning of rehabilitation for the people.”

But three years later, residents of Ground Zero, the 250-hectare main battlefield now referred to as the most affected area (MAA) comprising 24 of the city’s 96 villages, have yet to return home.

Castro said the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the reconstruction work in Marawi, as construction workers went home at the onset of the contagion in March 2020, and government and non-government organizations either stopped or shifted their attention to respond to the health pandemic.

Rehabilitation work in Marawi stopped for some months last year due to COVID-19 but slowly returned in May to June and by July most of the construction work had resumed, he said.

“We believe we can make up for the lost time. The contractors were instructed to double their efforts so we can meet the target date of completion,” he said at the online forum on “COVID, Conflicts and the Peace Process: Focus on Marawi” on  February 13. The forum was initiated by the Mindanao Institute of Journalism, publisher of MindaNews, in partnership with Internews.

Castro said that if the December 31, 2021 target cannot be achieved, the rehabilitation of Marawi “will be completed before the Duterte administration bows out from power on June 30, 2022.”

The running directive of the President is to finish the reconstruction of Marawi on or before the end of his term, the official added.

Castro said the rehabilitation projects in Marawi include the grand padian (market), barangay halls, museum, fire station and the school of living tradition.

Reconstruction of the destroyed mosques has also commenced.

Road reconstruction, electrification and the installation of a water system are ongoing, Castro said.

“(Construction) works are now full blast,” the former military general stressed.

Housing czar Secretary Eduardo del Rosario, TFBM chair, is conducting a monthly visit to Marawi to ensure the rehabilitation of the city will be completed on the target date, but there could still be adjustments due to the delay caused by the pandemic, Castro said.

In a Senate hearing on the budget on November 19, 2020,  Senator Risa Hontiveros said 30 percent of the targeted construction for the rehabilitation of Marawi has been accomplished, citing a report from del Rosario’s office, the Department of Human Settlements nad Urbna Development (HSUD).

“(Secretary Eduardo del Rosario) says the accomplishment rate, as of today, ay nandun po sa mga [is about] 20 to 30 percent,” said Hontiveros, who defended the budget of the HSUD for 2021.

Castro said 46,129 households in Marawi have been profiled by the government to help them get back on their feet.

Task Force Bangon Chief Eduardo del Rosario (center) and Marawi Mayor Majul Gandamra view the reconstruction map with engineers along Quezon Avenue in Marawi City on Saturday, October 17, 2020, three years after President Rodrigo Duterte declared the city “liberated from the terrorist influence.” MindaNews photo by FROILAN GALLARDO

Of these, Castro said 28,388 households from outside the MAA have been allowed to go back to their homes in 2018 through the Kambalingan (return) initiative of the local government unit and the national government agencies under the TFBM.

At least 17,791 households within MAA have yet to return, he added.

Almost 3,000 families have occupied the transitional shelters built by the government, which is targeting to construct a little over 4,000 shelters, Castro said.

Some 4,000 permanent housing units are being constructed for the displaced families — 3,000 by the national government and 1,000 by the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, he said.

Drieza Lininding, chair of the Marawi-based Moro Consensus Group, described the condition of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) as “still in the emergency situation,” noting that only a little over 10 percent of those uprooted by the Marawi siege had been accommodated at the transitional shelters constructed by the government.

“By definition, di natin matatawag na tapos na ang humanitarian response until yung mga tao ay naka-settle na sa kanila-kanilang mga bahay (we cannot say that the humanitarian response is over until the people have been settled at their respective houses),” he said in the same online forum.

Lininding said the complaints of IDPs in the transitional shelters before and after the COVID-19 pandemic struck in the first quarter of 2020 remained the same, such as lack of water system.

Noting the IDPs have been suffering for almost four years now since the Marawi siege erupted, he urged the government to fast-track the rehabilitation of the city for the return of residents to Ground Zero.

Castro admitted that not all the affected families can be accommodated in the housing projects.  (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)