Marawi rehab task force to seek exemption from election spending ban

Pia Ranada
Marawi rehab task force to seek exemption from election spending ban

Photo by Martin San Diego/Rapple

The task force wants to conduct procurement and begin building structures in Marawi City even during the March 29 to May 12 period when public spending and construction of public works is prohibited

MANILA, Philippines – Owing to the urgency of rehabilitating Marawi City, the executive branch will ask the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to exempt it from the upcoming election ban on public spending and construction of public works.

National Housing Authority (NHA) General Manager Marcelino Escalada Jr told Rappler on Tuesday, January 15, that Task Force Bangon Marawi may be able to submit the exemption request to the Comelec within the week.

“As soon as all the replies are in, within the week we will be able to submit to Comelec,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of a House subcommittee hearing on Marawi rehabilitation.

The replies he was referring to are the responses from all government agencies involved in the rehabilitation efforts on what projects have to be covered by the exemption. 

The government agencies are supposed to tell the task force which projects they are in charge of have to be exempted from the election ban. The request for exemption will be made by Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) Chairperson Eduardo del Rosario, who also heads the task force.

What election ban? From March 29 to May 12, the Comelec will be banning the construction of public works and the “release, disbursement, or expenditures of public funds” in anticipation of the 2019 midterm elections.

This ban is typically imposed in order to prevent large sums of taxpayers’ money from being misused by government officials and politicians in favor of electoral candidates. 

Thus, with the request for exemption, the rehabilitation task force wants to proceed with all construction and awarding of contracts unimpeded by the elections.

The Comelec typically exempts from the ban “emergency work necessitated by the occurrence of a public calamity.”

What will the proposed exemption cover? Escalada said the exemption they will request will cover the procurement process, or when the government chooses the firm that will execute the project, up to implementation, or when the firm and government agencies actually start the project.

There are a total of 23 project components under the Marawi rehabilitation master development plan.

How will public funds be protected from election-related interests? The point of the election ban is to protect public funds from being spent for elections, in favor of a certain candidate or party.  

Many high-priority projects under the rehabilitation of Marawi’s 250-hectare “most affected area” are supposed to begin implementation during the March to June timeframe, based on the task force’s timeline.

These projects include the Grand Pagadian Central Market (P443 million), barangay complex with health center and madrasa (P408 million), a school building (P1.14 million), and port facilities (P120 million). 

But Escalada downplayed the risk of such large funds being used by electoral candidates. All the projects, he said, will be implemented primarily by the executive branch, not by local politicians.

“I think in the instruction, it’s very clear that it will be implemented by the executive branch. NHA, DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways), DOTr (Department of Transportation), so there are no local politicians involved in the project implementation except to coordinate with the LGU (local government unit) and that is indispensable,” said Escalada.

“We need to coordinate with the local government of Marawi as well as the provincial government of Lanao del Sur. But in terms of preserving the fund, I think the HUDCC chair is on top of that,” he added. 

However, there are politicians and allies of politicians also within the executive branch. 

The task force pegged the total cost of all its projects at P13.7 billion. – Rappler.com

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.