Rising from the rubbles: Assessing the cost of rebuilding postwar Marawi

Armored personnel carriers are positioned near the bullet-riddled “I Love Marawi” landmark sign at the “main battle area” where pro-Islamic group militants are making a final stand amid a massive military offensive of Marawi City on October 19, 2017. Two days after President Duterte declared the liberation of the city, the military announced the killing of more suspected militants in the continuing military offensive.

From the use of guns, tanks, battle planes, drones and bombs, military engineers and government planners now shift to the use of pens, papers and calculators, as they attempt to come up with the exact monetary figure of the damage and rough sketches on how much it would take to rehabilitate Marawi City.

“We can now begin the next phase, which is damage assessment, which is already part of rehabilitation and reconstruction,” declared Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Año after President Duterte pronounced the symbolic “liberation” of Marawi from the Islamic State (IS)-Maute group this week.

The declaration was made following the killings of Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute, top leaders of the nearly five-month illegal drugs and terrorist-spawned rebellion—as claimed by Duterte—that almost wiped out a key city in Mindanao.

The assessment will be carried out, as the government continues to hunt the remnants of the IS-Maute group, which, according to Año, included at least eight Malaysian and Indonesian jihadists, in a small area near Lake Lanao in the devastated city.

“The small number of the remaining enemy can now be considered a law-enforcement matter and does not constitute a serious threat to hinder the succeeding phases of national government programs. What remains now is mopping up operations against IS-Maute stragglers in a small area,” the chief of staff said.

Clearing operations

Before the government can fully undertake the assessment, however, it has to clear the areas that became scenes of heavy fighting during the past months with homemade bombs and unexploded ordnance.

Along with the buildings and other structures that were interchangeably used as temporary quarters of the terrorists during the course of the war, these areas have been mined by the jihadists with homemade bombs, as part of their tactics in slowing down the push of the soldiers.

The military has claimed that exploding improvised explosive devices (IEDs) took a heavy toll on the assaulting troops.

“The clearing operations would be undertaken to remove those bombs that were left behind [by the terrorists], those which they called IEDs,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said.

“After the clearing operations, that’s the time that we would allow those who would be conducting the assessments to come in and look at the damage for the rehabilitation to start,” he added.

Estimates, options

The liberation of Marawi will not only provide the government the opportunity to come up with correct estimates for its rehabilitation, but also allow the Armed Forces to determine exactly how much it spent in dealing with and ending the country’s longest and most devastating “modern-day war”.

Military officials refused to give figures pending official audit, but they all admit that it could run up to billions, not far from the P5-billion unofficial and modest estimate of Lorenzana two weeks ago.

In Marawi, the government has already assured a P50-billion fund kitty for its repair, but local and national officials all agreed that the amount may still be low, especially if the administration attempts to restore it to what it used to be before the conflict.

The Duterte administration is looking at three ways on how to raise the city from the ashes and resettle its residents displaced by the nearly five months of fighting.

Armed Forces Western Mindanao Command commander Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. said earlier in a news briefing that the first option is to restore or rebuild the damaged buildings and structures so Marawi could retain its appearance just like before the war.

The second and third options are to relocate the affected residents to new homes and erect a new city in another area.

Galvez said the war directly affected at least 10,000 families in the city.

Temporary homes

Lorenzana said that according to earlier initial estimates, more than 6,000 temporary houses will be constructed to provide shelters to residents forced out of their houses while the city is being rehabilitated. “The government will construct temporary housing while we are reconstructing Marawi.”

Lorenzana added that families whose dwellings were not damaged during the war may start returning to their homes, noting that some  houses sustained minimal damage.

The defense secretary sees the rehabilitation of Marawi going full blast by January next year, as Congress has yet to allocate money for the undertaking.

In the meantime and up to December, the government will conduct massive clearing operations in the city to unearth unexploded bombs and clear the debris left by the war.

Image credits: AP/Bullit Marquez


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