Government News Analysis

Marawi – bill for the rebirth

Recovery and rebuilding of Marawi City in Mindanao, Philippines
Super-typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) turned Tacloban City, Leyte, into matchwood in November 2013

No definitive damage assessment has been made yet of the rubble and ruin left behind in Marawi – the Muslim city in Lanao del Sur in the southern Mindanao region of the Philippines, seized by Islamic State-affiliated terrorists two months ago. What’s clear though is that it’s going to run into many billions of pesos. Almost for sure, upwards of PHP20 billion presently earmarked by the government.

The Maute Group-led assault force which also contained Abu Sayyaf units and foreign fighters from other parts of Southeast Asia and from the Middle East, didn’t just occupy this city, they destroyed much of it. Churches, schools and commercial complexes were set ablaze; residential properties were looted and vandalized.

On top of that, aerial bombing by the Philippine Air Force and artillery shelling by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, has left much of the centre of this once-scenic city looking like a postcard from Aleppo, the once-vibrant Syrian city which is now a desolate wasteland of the Syrian civil war.

We will rebuild Marawi to what it was before or better this time”.
At the end of last month, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gave the people of Marawi a solemn pledge: “I will see to it that Marawi will rise as a prosperous city again … We will rebuild Marawi to what it was before or better this time”.

He also announced that a dedicated unit – Bangon [rise up] Marawi Interagency Task Force – had been created and was already looking into the logistics and funding to speed-up the recovery programme.

Funds will be siphoned off from less-urgent projects from right across government – projects already identified by the departments of Agriculture, Education, Environment and Natural Resources, and Public Works. In addition to that, the National Housing Association is likely to be co-opted to deliver brick-and-mortar solutions for those left homeless, while Social Welfare and Development will continue its relief efforts. Around 400,000 people were displaced from their homes in this crisis.

Cash from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund – normally reserved for funding recovery from natural disasters such as typhoons – could be utilised. Two government special-purposes funds, administered by the Department of Budget and Management – the Contingency Fund and the Calamity Fund – might also be tapped. In any event, Duterte has said he’ll find what’s needed to rehabilitate Marawi. It will rise again.

We expect more flesh will be put on the bones of this when Duterte comes to deliver his second State of the Nation Address to the Filipino people at the Batasang Pambansa Complex in Quezon City, Manila on Monday.

Aside from all that though, he’s also likely to get a lot of outside help. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, for example, has strong links to Marawi. The construction of the King Faisal Mosque along with the Islamic Arabic and Asian Studies Center – both within the campus of the Mindanao State University which was damaged in the conflict – was financed by the late Saudi monarch.

Closer to home, Singapore, a fellow member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), has offered to use the city state’s Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Risk Reduction Centre to channel foreign contributions for the reconstruction of Marawi.

The restoration of the Philippines’ sole Islamic city will provide a golden opportunity to these Southeast Asian countries
On the back of that we can expect to see a rallying across Asean to offer assistance for Marawi’s rebirth – not least from the dominant Muslim states of Malaysia and Indonesia. The restoration of the Philippines’ sole Islamic city will provide a golden opportunity to these Southeast Asian countries – all of which are in the firing line of Islamic extremists – to signal that they stand as one in their counter-terrorism resolve. Of equal importance, by their support they will signal that Islamic insurgents have no place among the region’s Muslim communities.

Other offers of reconstruction aid have come from Australia, China and the United States. What could be emerging is that countries around the world want to be associated with Marawi’s renaissance – and for similar reasons we believe to those which will fire-up Asean’s leaders. They want to put their signature to a global statement proclaiming the futility of terrorism.

Certainly, the rise of Marawi from the ashes can carry a very poignant message, as the rebuilding of the New York World Trade Center – destroyed by planes hijacked by al-Qaeda suicide teams on 9/11 2001 – has done. But it needs to be handled extremely sensitively. And what goes up there needs to be solid and appropriate in every way. This is a Muslim City after all; it can’t be turned into a fair ground or some kind of post-conflict theme park.

The other thing is, given the passions surrounding what’s happened there, the last thing we want to be writing about is how money went missing or was skimmed from Marawi projects. That happened during the last big disaster – when super-typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) turned Tacloban City, Leyte, into matchwood (photo) in November 2013.

What emerged 18 months later, according to a Commission on Audit report, was that PHP907.56 million of the city’s rehabilitation funds – Recovery Assistance for Yolanda, money meant for emergency shelter, infrastructure and aquaculture projects – had been used ineffectively, inefficiently and questionably.

That must not happen here. This needs to be put in the hands of someone who’s honest and knows what they’re doing this time. Any wandering funds, vanishing materials; any ridiculous bureaucratic delays, centrally or by local government; the use of any suspect contractors or unnecessary middle men; any shoddy workmanship; all will be harshly judged – not just by the citizens of Marawi but by the rest of the Philippine population. The entire country has a stake in the rebuilding of this city.

It’s the first time that New Delhi has given overt financial assistance to help another country battling an insurgency.
Meanwhile, back to the present, India has already provided US$500,000 to assist the rehabilitation of Marawi residents – some 200,000 of them fled the city in the early days and weeks of the conflict. This is the largest cash aid the Philippines has received to date for this crisis. It’s also the first time that New Delhi has given overt financial assistance to help another country battling an insurgency.

All that’s significant. Certainly, India has a massive Muslim population – there’s around 190 million of them right now – and it’s growing. According to studies carried out by the US-based think-tank, the Pew Research Center, by 2050 India will have the largest Muslim population of any country on Earth – a population that’s expected to exceed 300 million.

So affinity with Marawi makes sound sense – particularly when India too wants to send the message that Islamic terrorism will not be countenanced. The press release issued by the Embassy of India in Manila which confirmed India’s cash contribution to Marawi’s relief and rehabilitation efforts, referred to India’s “solidarity with the people of the Philippines against terrorism”.

Remarkably, given its huge Muslim demographic, India has managed largely to deter global Islamists from setting up shop within its borders. India’s intelligence and counter-terrorism agencies are regarded among the best in the world.

New Delhi and Manila are already engaged in a number of counter-terrorism pursuits, including information exchange, cyber-security cooperation and training programmes such as for the de-radicalisation of potential jihadists.

But behind all that are other reasons for India’s Marawi involvement. In 2014, shortly after taking over the reins of government, Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, unveiled his ‘Act East policy’, an updated version of the previous ‘Look East policy’ by which India sought to foster and develop strategic and economic relations with the countries of Southeast Asia.

Its other purpose was to build its status as a regional power and counter China’s influence in the region. And since ‘Look East’ was initiated in 1991, commercial, cultural and military ties with Asean member states – particularly with Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines – have been considerably enhanced. In the area of counter-terrorism cooperation, India has forged strong links with Asean members, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Act East takes Look East to the next level of closer involvement and seeks to take advantage of the Asean region’s high levels of economic growth. To this end, Modi’s planners have put forward a slew of juicy agreements – covering everything from economics and finance to defence and trade – in an effort to build closer cooperation with the Asean member states.

Last November, India’s Minister of State for Transport and Highways flagged the start of the Friendship Motor Car Rally – a 19-day, 3,555-mile auto-marathon from Delhi via a number of cities in Myanmar to Bangkok in Thailand. Part of its purpose was to highlight land connectivity between the Subcontinent and Southeast Asia.

It was horse-power diplomacy intended to add another link to the chain of cooperation between South and Southeast Asia which India is seeking to forge. New Delhi’s generous cash support for Marawi and its ever-close engagement with Manila on matters of intelligence sharing and counter-terrorism are likely to make that chain stronger.

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