Waiting for the second war to start

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Ben D. Kritz

THE enthusiasm of leaders in Manila and Mindanao for “rehabilitating” Marawi City as soon as possible after the military rids it of its terrorist infestation is encouraging, but the guns haven’t even fallen silent yet and already it appears competing interests are heading for a new clash.

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A couple of days ago, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella informed the press that an executive order earmarking P10 billion for Marawi City’s recovery had been prepared and was waiting for President Duterte’s signature. On Tuesday, party-list representative Harry Roque filed a bill in the House of Representatives that would do the same thing. And about a week ago, the government of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) announced its own plan, apparently developed with assistance of the World Bank, which would carry out rehabilitation in three phases over six years or more.

The executive and legislative measures are similar. Each would divide the funds among a number of agencies, in particular the Defense Department, Department of Public Works and Highways, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Department of Education, and the National Housing Authority. Neither measure clearly states where the P10 billion funding amount will be coming from, nor does either measure explain how that figure was determined. The implication of both measures is that the P10 billion is an initial figure, and that the approval of the “rehabilitation plan” either measure represents is essentially a blank check.

The ARMM plan, on the other hand, is more a framework for approaching rehabilitation rather than a specific plan. It divides the recovery of Marawi City into three phases: early recovery and reconstruction, to last from three to 12 months; medium-term reconstruction lasting from one to six years; and long-term rehabilitation and development beyond six years. The ARMM plan does not attach a monetary figure to the effort, but rather will be implemented after a comprehensive damage assessment and an inventory of existing resources that can be applied to the recovery project. One key to the ARMM plan, as ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman pointed out, is that it would be “culturally sensitive,” and be aligned as much as possible with development plans from the surrounding communities.

One point the ARMM plan addresses, albeit vaguely, that the two separate but similar government proposals do not is the aspiration to actually improve Marawi City, rather than simply return it to its state before May 23 when the Islamic State-linked Maute group terrorists attacked the city. Nevertheless, it is otherwise no less flawed than the government proposals: None have definite timelines, none have any real financing details, and none define an organization to carry out their programs. The two government proposals rely mostly on the military to lead the rehabilitation efforts; the ARMM program is even more vague than the government proposals in terms of who will carry out the plan.

What the government and the ARMM should be doing is working cooperatively to develop a rehabilitation plan. However, the fact that the government presented its own proposals a week or more after the ARMM did without referring to the latter at all suggests that communication between the national leadership and those closest to the people who are most affected by the conflict is neither frequent nor substantial. That being the case, the situation is ripe for the same sort of political infighting, inefficiency, funding leakage or outright corruption, and overall paralysis that has typified large-scale disaster recovery efforts time and again in the Philippines. It is not a pattern the country should repeat under any circumstances, but especially not now, when it is clear that we are facing an enemy who is much more capable of exploiting weaknesses than anyone realized.

Because of the large scale of the recovery, it is likely the participation of private enterprise is going to be needed, and that will be a big challenge under the best of circumstances. Already, one large investment – a proposed amusement park to be built near Cagayan de Oro – has pulled out because of the trouble in Mindanao, according to the Philippine Economic Zone Authority. Attracting others will be impossible unless there is an effective rehabilitation and security program being carried out. With the potentially competing proposals that have been made so far, the prospects of an effective program seem discouragingly dim.

ben.kritz@manilatimes.net

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