MANILA – The ongoing delay in the rehabilitation of Marawi City, which was reduced to rubble during a 5-month war against Islamic State-inspired homegrown terrorists, can fuel resurgence of violent extremism, a peacebuilding organization warned on Wednesday.
Francisco Lara Jr., senior peace and conflict adviser in Asia of non-governmental organization International Alert, said displaced residents of the Islamic City were growing impatient over the snail-paced rehabilitation. It has been 3 years since the government declared its liberation.
“Hands down, people on the ground are anxious. They are getting impatient, and of course, there is a lot of anger because exactly of the promises that were made, the schedules that were presented to the people that have not been met,” he told ANC’s “Matters of Fact.”
With the rehabilitation delay, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, terrorists may hijack the grievances of residents, ultimately leading them to violent extremism, Lara said.
“Because I assure you, the influence remains in some communities. When the President said we have liberated [Marawi], that’s right. Marawi was liberated in terms of control of the city. But in terms of the presence of extremists, they are still there,” he said.
To date, over 100,000 residents, who have been yearning to rebuild their lives after the months-long fighting that ended in October 2017, are still living outside the most affected area of Marawi, Lara said.
He warned that extremists have gotten stronger in other parts of Bangsamoro, a newly created autonomous region in the restive South, particularly in the boundaries of Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao.
Lara, also a sociology professor at the University of the Philippines Diliman, urged government leaders to prioritize the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Marawi.
"You have to see this as a priority because this is an area that experienced so much suffering and misery for a couple of years and they deserve relief and support right now,” he said.
He noted that President Rodrigo Duterte in 2018 promised to restore the once bustling city to its former glory but had not mentioned it since then in his annual public addresses.
If the government is genuinely committed to help the residents of Marawi, Lara said they should also approve a bill that would compensate the victims of the 2017 siege.
The Marawi Siege Compensation bill, which seeks to provide monetary reparation for the destruction of residential houses, commercial buildings and other properties in Marawi City, as well as in affected areas in Lanao del Sur, has so far passed the House Committee on Disaster Resilience in September.
“We've heard that the economic managers do not support the compensation bill. There is a tug-of-war between those who would push for support for compensation for the people in Marawi and those who do not want to spend money,” Lara said
“This is where the President should come in. If he is genuinely committed to the rehabilitation of Marawi, then he should get the economic mangers in line to support the compensation bill."