By BONG S. SARMIENTO
Last of two parts
LAKE Lanao is the second largest lake in the Philippines and the largest in Mindanao. It is a major source of hydropower in the south.
But Li Lin, consul general of the recently-opened Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China in Davao City, said Beijing wants to help rebuild Marawi in a bid to strengthen their improving ties with Manila, laughing off the anti-Chinese sentiments in Marawi as “baseless.”
“The support from China to participate in post-war Marawi… is a gift from the Chinese government. Apart from that, probably there would be some cooperation projects plus private sector and state-owned companies that will invest in Marawi. That will be a win-win cooperation. It’s not money that will be lent to Philippines but Chinese companies coming in to invest (in Marawi)” he told MindaNews on April 2 at the Chinese consular office in Davao City.
For one, China will donate a fund for the construction of a bridge inside Ground Zero, Li said, wondering — in response to anti-Chinese sentiments in the Islamic city — how such a project from China would put Marawi at risk.
He lamented that China or state-owned Chinese companies are being made the scapegoat for the delay to rehabilitate Marawi.
“I hope this is from a small number of people misled by Western media, or stories told by opposition parties. It sounds very strange to me. (Even) if it is a general public opinion, that you have this kind of worries, or even this strong sentiment against (China), this is “groundless,” Li said.
He reiterated the help for Marawi to rise from the ashes of war from the Chinese government and people “is very sincere.”
Data from the Department of Finance (DoF) estimated that P72.20 billion ($1.39 billion) is needed for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Marawi.
Of this amount, P47.20 billion ($901 million) is needed for the Bangon Marawi Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Program (BMCRRP); P17.20 billion ($328.3 million) that will be 100 percent sourced from local funding will be spent to rehabilitate the MAA; and P1.25 billion ($23.9 million) will be spent for livelihood assistance, which would also be fully sourced from local funds. The overall financing requirement also includes the P6.9 billion ($130.64 million) in humanitarian assistance required during the early stages of the recovery program for Marawi.
During the pledging session in November in Davao City, P35.1 billion ($665.20 million) were raised for BMCRRP, of which 32.7 billion ($619,73 million) or 93 percent is in the form of concessional loans from international lenders and foreign governments. The rest, P2.4 billion ($45.50 million), are grants from China (P1.10 billion or $20.84 million) and Japan (P928.38 million or $17.59 million).
The P35.10 billion in loans and grants generated during the pledging session in Davao City last November would cover around 75% of the BMCRRP funding requirement.
So far, the global community contributed humanitarian assistance worth at least P6.9 billion ($130.64 million) for relief operations, DoF data showed.
Lininding lamented the lack of progress at Ground Zero and the fact that at least 27,000 people have not been allowed to return to their homes there nearly 18 months after “liberation.”
On March 20, residents, including students, peacefully marched in the streets of Marawi to demand that they be allowed to return to their homes ravaged by the urban warfare that left 1,100 people dead, mostly Islamic militants.
The protest action was held in time for the first ever Congressional inquiry by the Lower House Committee on Disaster Management, Sub-Committee on Marawi Rehabilitation.
The hearing, attended by hundreds of residents, gave the locals the venue to ventilate their dissatisfaction, anger and frustration, among others, over the slow pace of rehabilitation.
Abdul Hamidullah Atar, the Sultan of Marawi, chided the government for failing on its promise to expedite the rehabilitation of their city, stressing that thousands of families are still languishing in various evacuation and transitional shelter sites that have ”dehumanized” them for the past two years.
“We wanted to see stakeholders’ actually taking part in decision-making to chart the rehabilitation and reconstruction of their respective homes and the city,” Atar said in a manifesto submitted to the legislative inquiry.
In a separate interview, the sultan lamented the lack of consultation on the master development plan for the MAA, a claim that TFBM officials denied in several public occasions.
“What happened was a presentation and not consultation of the MAA rehabilitation plan to the public,” he told MindaNews, pointing out TFBM’s MAA master development plan was the same as the one crafted by the Chinese-led Bagong Marawi Consortium.
The master plan was rammed into our throats because there was “no real consultation” with the locals, he said, asking, “Did they consult with the landowners, for instance, where the studio or the museum will be built?”
TFBM now refers to the MAA master plan as the Marawi RISE Plan, with R standing for resilience, I for identity, S for sustainability, and E for evolution.
Atar said local contractors should undertake the rehabilitation of Marawi, and not foreigners.
Like Lininding, Atar worries over Chinese involvement in the rehabilitation of Marawi.
“Many Meranaws (or the people of Marawi) refuse to have Chinese contractors (take part in the reconstruction of the city),” the sultan said.
He feared that if contractors from China will bag the rehabilitation project, they will bring in Chinese workers, citing the rush of Chinese workers to the country employed in offshore gaming operations, that might render local construction workers jobless.
The traditional leader appealed that Marawi residents be given the priority in the hiring process once rehabilitation work goes full throttle to help them get back on their feet.
Consul General Li said construction workers “would be majority Filipinos in case Chinese firms would undertake construction projects in Marawi.”
But when can Ground Zero residents go back to their homes?
Secretary Eduardo del Rosario, TFBM chair and the country’s housing czar, set the deadline for the clearing of debris and unexploded ordnance this August 30.
Speaking on March 19 before hundreds of residents attending the “Consultation Dialogue with the IDPs (internally displace persons) within the MAA (24 barangays) in Marawi City,” the retired military general said that MAA residents will be allowed to return by the “first week of September” to repair their destroyed properties.
Residents of the least affected areas of the MAA might even be allowed to return “as early as July,” but they need to get permits first from the city government before they can repair their properties, he added.
Del Rosario set the completion of Marawi’s total rehabilitation “by December 2021,” even if reconstruction works at the MAA is not yet in full swing.
An estimated three million tons of debris were left by the Marawi siege at Ground Zero.
As of March 20, 49 unexploded ordnance (UXOs) have yet to be recovered from the 70 UXOs dropped by military aircraft, the main reason why, according to del Rosario, residents are not allowed to return back to their homes at Ground Zero.
Doubts were also raised for the return of the IDPs to Ground Zero in September since of the 6,861 structures, only 610 owners, or less than 10%, have given their consent for the demolition of their structures as of March 15.
But for Norphia Dipatuan, the mother of six who continues to suffer the harsh life at the “tent city” evacuation site especially as food rations are getting scarce and the basic necessities are lacking, she prays they can, indeed, return to their village by September so that she can return to selling cooked food and start rebuilding their broken lives.