By Carolyn O. Arguillas
and Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism .
(First of five parts)
MARAWI City — The groundbreaking for the government’s ambitious rehabilitation of this city was supposed to take place on the first anniversary of Marawi’s “liberation” from the Islamic State-inspired Maute Group that had laid siege on it last year.
This Oct. 14, however, Falconi Millar, head of the Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM) Secretariat, said the event would be postponed since President Rodrigo Duterte would be unavailable today. The new target date for the groundbreaking, he said, was “likely October 28.”
According to Malacañang, the President has two items on his schedule on that day, both taking place at the Palace: the 102nd anniversary celebration of the Cooperative Movement in the Philippines at 5:30 pm and the Traditional Dinner of the AFP Council of Sergeant Majors at 6:30 pm.
The groundbreaking for the Marawi rebuilding and rehabilitation project had already been pushed back at least 10 times previously, yet TFBM chief Eduardo del Rosario is confident that the project’s completion target date of yearend 2021 will be met. Still, until rehabilitation activities actually start, what used to be Lanao del Sur’s proud and beautiful capital will continue to lie in ruins, and thousands of its residents will remain displaced.
The Siege of Marawi, a city of about 250,000 in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm), had resulted in more than 1,100 fatalities, including at least 47 civilians. Other areas of Iligan City and Lanao del Sur were also affected, leading to the displacement of as much as 350,000 people, many with their homes damaged or totally destroyed.
The five-month fighting between the Maute Group and government troops last year rendered at least 24 of Marawi’s 96 barangays within what is now called the “Most Affected Area” or the MAA uninhabitable, and wiped out the city’s cultural, commercial, and business center.
Maranaws have since repeatedly said that if President Duterte had only tapped into the cultural resources of his fellow Maranaws, the crisis would have been over in a few days and Marawi would have been saved from massive destruction.
In a policy paper on postwar Marawi submitted to the President last November, Dr. Macapado Muslim, former president of the Mindanao State University (MSU), also noted that while many of the local residents generally blame the Maute Group and the Abu Sayyaf for attacking the city, a number of them “resent the government’s use of massive air strikes and heavy artillery fire (that) caused much of the destruction of their houses and properties.”
But Duterte – the first Mindanawon to lead the nation and the first to claim Maranaws roots – has shrugged off such criticisms, including the assertion that his response to the crisis was disproportionate: martial law all over Mindanao barely eight hours after the first shot was fired, and massive land, air, and sea operations.
And yet, there had been previous instances when a full-blown armed conflict was avoided even after an attack by rebel forces here. Among these was the 2007 siege by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) where its forces took control of the bridges in Marawi. (To be continued)