Marawi’s human settlement is true liberation
Every human settlement is a political settlement, too. A developed, secure, and peaceful human settlement does not only emanate from physical structures but is a result of social consensus and negotiation between and amongst people. Yet, Marawi is far from achieving this, despite the billions of pesos and massive resources poured into its recovery. Stadiums, parks, and complexes are built in a ghost town with homes, schools, and hospitals left in ruins.
The rise of infrastructures amidst the backdrop of bullet-stricken homes has not steered hope. Instead, it has enabled more voices of frustration and rage to rise from the ruins. To be sure, the passage of the Marawi Siege Victims Compensation Act of 2022 symbolizes a precedent and victory not only for the victims of the Marawi siege, but also for communities subjected to the violence of war, whether in Marawi or elsewhere in the Philippines, who can no longer be denied reparation and compensation from hereon.
However, it has been more than six months after the law was enacted in April 2022, and the Compensation Board has yet to be established. The snail-paced progress and misplaced priorities on key goals have kept the lives of Marawi residents suspended. For us, the search for justice seems never-ending, and we implore President Marcos Jr. to expedite and make transparent the vetting process for the composition of the Marawi Compensation Board. Members of the Board should have extensive knowledge and understanding of the context and culture to ensure that the rehabilitation and compensation process is appropriate and does not exacerbate conflict. We cannot afford to repeat the deplorable tale of Marawi’s so-called rehabilitation over the last five years.
The Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD) is in charge of reconstruction. More crucially, they lead and steer the introduction of other inputs, such as social interventions, ensuring people’s “access to and affordability of basic human necessities.” The law defines “human settlements” as a combination of physical shelter, infrastructure, and fundamental community services such as education, health, and culture.
We have not seen and felt the principles of human settlements demonstrated in Marawi’s rebuilding. Despite the important quality of the city as a university and cultural center in Muslim Mindanao, few of the rehabilitation interventions have leveraged this feature. The rebuilding of destroyed schools that preserve culture and harmony in the city and the province has not been prioritized, nor have educational facilities, such as libraries, that preserve the vast history and rich culture of the Maranao and Mindanao as a whole. Interfaith schools leveled to the ground have not been rebuilt, such as the Dansalan College founded by the Americans at the turn of the century, and taught generations of Muslim and Christian leaders together. The location of Mindanao State University’s main campus in Marawi speaks eloquently about the importance of education in Marawi and Maranao. Both institutions have been at the vanguard of Marawi’s liberal education.
The Task Force Bangon Marawi has claimed that the residents in main affected areas (MAA) will be allowed to return. But land issues continue to hound their return. Less than 3,000 families were able to apply for building permits, only around 1,000 of these applications have been approved, and only 95 were able to finish rebuilding and return to their homes. This matter will be a stumbling block in determining property restitution when the compensation law is implemented. There is also the urgent question of the expiration of agreements between the National Housing Authority, the city government, and private landowners, which will result in the eviction of internally displaced persons from temporary shelters as soon as February 2023. False information and speculations are spreading fast in communities where temporary shelters are situated, causing tension between families and landowners. If prompt action is not taken to resolve land issues, violence may erupt. Writ large, the most basic of services, such as water and electricity, are still unavailable in the MAA.
Marawi remains uninhabitable despite all declarations of completion. It is now up to the new DHSUD secretary to steer the Marawi reconstruction process in the right direction. Building a better Marawi is a legacy for the President, who stood on the Senate floor not too long ago to decry the impact of the 2017 war on its citizens. It is also an accountability that the secretary, as a key Cabinet member, and a known and reputable builder, must uphold. On this Marawi Liberation Day, we ask him to aggressively work on his agency’s mandate, to lead in bridging Marawi’s people and our country’s leaders, and truly listen to the needs and aspirations of the peoples of Marawi, who until now cries for true liberation and justice to happen in their lifetimes.
The Marawi Reconstruction Conflict Watch (MRCW) is an independent multistakeholder dialogue group that harnesses skills and professions to monitor the Marawi reconstruction process and channels greater public attention and engagement. MRCW members are from Marawi and most are Maranao.
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