• Muslim Mindanao needs the cliché called Marshall Plan


    Marlen V. Ronquillo

    BANGON Marawi, which is the proposed master plan to bring back Marawi to its feet from its current wreck and ruin, has good intentions. But the scope and reach, if we go by the newspaper accounts, will just have the effect of physically rehabilitating this proud and historic Muslim city. It is a spending and infrastructure program, pure and simple, the kind of work governments do to a place visited and ravaged by a natural calamity.

    Rebuilding Marawi, after its long siege and bombardment, is not purely about physical destruction.

    One more thing. As a deterrent to the proselytizing of the Islamic fundamentalists, as a deterrent to the emergence of new Mautes and Hapilons, or as a deterrent to a fresh round of rebellion and mayhem in the city, Bangon Marawi, as proposed, will do very little if its ultimate aim is containment. Rebuild it. Then liberate the city from its century-old crutches.

    A physical rehab, surely, will help speed up the process of bringing Marawi City back to its feet. The public facilities such as schools and hospitals, the mosques and the churches, the homes and the transport-related infrastructure need to be rebuilt. But all of these structures will be useless without going deep into the roots of the Muslim Mindanao crisis, or what made it a ticking time bomb. There are few places in the modern world where poverty and illiteracy has been shifting from the embarrassing 50 percent to the desperate 60 percent. One of those few places is the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao, of which Marawi City is an integral and original component.

    The woes of Muslim Mindanao—and Marawi City for that matter—are so deep-seated and seemingly without solution, and they can’t simply be solved by a spending and infrastructure program.

    So, what is to be done?

    It sounds like a cliché than a real solution. But we have to admit that only a version of the “Marshall Plan” will have the boldness and scope and scale to, at the very least, make both Marawi City and Muslim Mindanao normal, functional, fully mainstream part of the country.

    If we have a good draft of a Marshall Plan, Congress will pass the funding part in the next deliberations. Though grudgingly, our congressmen and senators will pass it. The reasons are obvious. They will be confronted with an “either or”. Poverty and illiteracy plus IS? Or, the Marshall Plan?

    Plus, the leaders of the two chambers come from Mindanao. That will help immensely in passing a huge budgetary allocation for a Muslim Mindanao version of the Marshall Plan.

    The fear of IS may not be the most socially responsible reason for Congress in passing a comprehensive rehab and reconstruction program with the scope of the Marshall Plan. But to override the parochial concerns –Why is Muslim Mindanao getting that much and my district is getting cents?— fear has to strike the members of Congress from the Visayas and Luzon. Right now, they are far from the destruction and violence. But who can tell?

    What if sleeper cells are established in Culiat (Quezon City) and Taguig?

    The equation – and the choice of what to do – is all too clear for the members of the two chambers of Congress.

    The Marshall Plan will also seek to redress a historical fact and grievance, the century-old neglect of Muslim Mindanao. Congress, should it allocate the jumbo fund for Muslim Mindanao, will be acting on the side of history.

    Muslim Mindanao is now where it is today, a region of nightmarish illiteracy and poverty levels and now a magnet that has attracted the IS affiliates, if it were not for the region’s unheeded cry for attention from the national government. A cursory check of congressional and budgetary records will show this.

    From the Commonwealth-era assembly to today, the verbal paeans paid to Muslim Mindanao have not been matched with corresponding appropriations. Based on the usual formula of allocating per sector or per department, and with debt repayment as the most urgent priority, Muslim Mindanao’s urgent need for development funds has been obscured. During the martial law years, with the budget solely written by the budget ministry, that formula did not change and no special money was dedicated to the needs of MM.

    Funding a Marshall Plan for Muslim Mindanao is akin to redressing a century-old grievance, a century-old plea for real and substantive help.

    The full mainstreaming of Muslims into the heart of Philippine society is even a topic for debate. It is urgent. It needs priority attention. It is a moral imperative even.

    How the neglect of Muslim Mindanao became normal, just like our tolerant nod to the often-failed leadership there, is beyond comprehension.


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