... prepares for all-out Marawi rehab

THE government is ready to conduct an all-out rehabilitation and rebuilding of war-torn Marawi city, the military said Friday.

AFP Spokesperson Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla, during a Malacañang news briefing, said the Armed Forces was at present clearing the city, particularly the main battle area, to ensure there were no remaining unexploded ordnances, improvised explosive devices, or booby traps that could harm citizens.

Padilla also said that Joint Task Force Marawi had been dissolved after it had accomplished its mission of liberating the city. 

Subsequently, Joint Task Group Ranao, which will take its place, was elevated to a task force in charge of the city’s complete rehabilitation.

Meanwhile, the government is studying proposals to turn the main battle area of Marawi into a memorial, the Task Force Bangon Marawi said.

Defense Assistant Secretary Kristoffer James Purisima said in a television interview the local government of Marawi had earlier floated the idea of turning the main battle area into a symbolic reminder of the atrocities laid by jihadist rebels.

In a Palace news briefing later, Purisima said the government had started the return of 6,463 internally displaced persons to nine barangays in Marawi.

“For the remaining barangays in the main battle area, we are awaiting for (sic) the conclusion of the clearing operations to be determined by the AFP,” Purisima noted.

He also ensured that the government would continue to uphold the principles of transparency and accountability in handling the funds for the Marawi rehabilitation.

DISPLACED EVACUEES. Photo, taken Tuesday, shows evacuees displaced by fighting between government troops and IS-inspired Muslim militants, preparing firewood for cooking in front of their tents at an evacuation center in Saguiran town near the recently freed lakeshore capital of Marawi City. AFP

An initial P5-billion budget allotted by the government would be used for the city’s early recovery, Purisima said. 

Of this amount, an estimated P3.4 billion will be tapped to provide health and social services to IDPs. 

“This includes the continuous distribution of relief for our IDPs and other basic services such as water, sanitation and hygiene services, or what we call as WASH, including mental health and psychosocial services, and medical and nutritional services,” Purisima said, adding that remaining funds would be allocated for the ongoing construction of transitional shelters for evacuees.

At the same time, the government is still studying the pledges from foreign organizations to ensure these are within the framework of the administration’s finance and resource mobilization.

“Individually, if there are organizations or countries that approach specific agencies, the agreement is that agency would have to disclose that to the task force and the task force will discuss whether to accept it,” he stressed.

Purisima confirmed the government had received foreign donations from the governments of Canada, China, Germany, Korea, India, Thailand, and Singapore.

Additionally, financial assistance was provided by the Asean Coordinating Center for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management and the US Agency for International Development, also for the early recovery phase. 

International organizations also pledged assistance to the country, including the governments of Australia and Japan, the Asian Development Bank, the European Union, the World Bank, and the United Nations Development Program.

The five-month fighting displaced 77,170 families, or 353,921 people, according to the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

In a related development:

--Cradling her baby in a muddy tent camp, Jamalia Pindaton has no idea if she can return home to Marawi in the southern Philippines after the end of a five-month war launched by Islamic State supporters.

More than 350,000 people from in and around Marawi, the mainly Catholic Philippines’ Islamic capital, were displaced because of the conflict, which ended on Monday when soldiers killed the remaining gunmen inside a mosque.

But, with the eastern half of Marawi almost totally destroyed and worries over bombs planted by the militants, authorities have said it could be months or even years before most people would be able to return.

“We don’t know if our house is still there,” Pindaton, 29, told AFP on Thursday as she held her six-month-old daughter at an evacuation center in a coconut grove at Balo-i, 20 kilometers from Marawi.

“It is difficult here. We don’t have income and can only rely on relief.”

About 10,000 Marawi residents have been allowed to return so far, mostly those who lived near the Mindanao State University that was well outside the battle zone, according to local authorities.

About 33,000 others, whose homes are in so-called “controlled areas” that were spared the worst of the war, are set to follow next week, regional social welfare chief Zorahayda Taha told AFP.

Many of the displaced are living with relatives and friends, but tens of thousands without such support networks like Pindaton have been forced to live in makeshift evacuation centres.

Signalling how long it will take to rebuild Marawi, the government is building new low-cost housing for this group.

It has also launched cash-for-work schemes and given families a P200 ($4) daily cash allowance to help them out with groceries.

Pindaton’s husband, a former construction worker, has been planting corn on government land in one of the cash-for-work schemes. But she said he would only be paid when the corn went to market, leaving them totally reliant on handouts.

The Philippines has a long experience of managing large, seasonally displaced populations due to frequent natural disasters such as typhoons, floods and earthquakes, and the government has sought to quickly start a rehabilitation program for Marawi. 

But while there are also long-running Muslim insurgencies in the south, the Philippines has not experienced such an enduring and devastating man-made catastrophe since the World War II Japanese occupation.

Aside from claiming the lives of 920 militants, 165 troops and 47 civilians, according to government figures, thousands of buildings were destroyed with entire districts turned into piles of concrete rubble.

Rebuilding to cost $1.1 billion 

Rebuilding Marawi’s basic infrastructure alone, including power, tap water, and roads, will cost $1.1 billion, according to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, which has been helping the displaced, expects between 30,000-40,000 of the “most vulnerable” residents to require food, shelter, livelihood and housing assistance for up to several years.

“It’s something very unusual that we unfortunately see in other parts of the world, like in the Middle East or even in Africa,” Roberto Petronio, the ICRC’s southern Philippines chief, told AFP.

Even for those who have managed to return home in recent days, widespread looting and the general devastation in the city has quickly doused their sense of relief.

“Our door was broken down and I found our clothes scattered on the floor. Our food stocks are also gone,” elderly shopkeeper Nurhana Sangcopan told AFP as she inspected her house in Marawi’s East Basak district on Thursday.

Another key concern is the disruption of children’s education.

The Mindanao State University reopened before the end of the conflict, but many grade schoolers and high school students have nowhere to go.

“My third grader has stopped going to school because we could not provide the fare money,” said Subaida Marangit, 46, a widowed mother of five who lost her business delivering candies to stores.

Her family of six now sleeps on the floor of a mosquito-infested bamboo and palm hut at an evacuation center on Marawi’s outskirts.

The students themselves could also be suffering from shock related to the war and may not be ready to go back to school even if alternate schoolrooms were provided, educators said.

“The children require psychological first aid,” primary school teacher Diana Demaro told AFP on Tuesday as she led about 60 children in a group exercise on the grounds of a government building packed with evacuee families.

“We need to entertain them to make them forget the trauma they are feeling,” Demaro added. 

Topics: Government , Marawi City , rehabilitation , military , Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla , Armed Forces of the Philippines , Joint Task Force Marawi , Joint Task Group Ranao , Task Force Bangon Marawi , Defense Assistant Secretary Kristoffer James Purisima
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