MANILA, Philippines – Allowing residents of the "uninhabitable" Most Affected Area (MAA) in Marawi City to return any time soon would be chaotic, said Housing Secretary Eduardo del Rosario.
This despite warnings that the delay in the return of Marawi residents to their homes has frustrated them and could boost the recruitment of extremist organizations. It's been two years since President Rodrigo Duterte declared the city "liberated" from terrorists.
"That would be chaotic again. If we are going to rebuild a devastated city, I think that is not the right way of rebuilding a city to make it better," he said on Friday, October 25, during a Rappler Talk interview.
Del Rosario heads the government task force on Marawi rehabilitation, called Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM).
He was told that some residents and Marawi civic groups are clamoring to return to their homes and live in them while repairing the damage themselves, after two years in temporary shelters or staying with relatives.
But Del Rosario is adamant that this be put off until electricity and a centralized water system are put in place, and all construction of homes are covered by a building permit.
Or else, he said, this part of Marawi City would again be full of improperly-built or located structures lacking in properly-installed utilities.
"If we will allow the IDPs (internally-displaced persons) to go back, that will be chaotic again and they will go back to their old system of building houses, building structures without clearance from the city government," said Del Rosario.
The rehabilitation was a chance to "do it right."
"We would like to make everything right wherein they have to apply for a building permit from the city government so that every household, every building that will be constructed must be recorded in the data bank of the city government," said Del Rosario.
Return in mid-2021
It's only residents in the MAA or Ground Zero of Marawi City that have not been allowed to live in their homes. This 250-hectare portion is the central part of the city, and used to be its busiest area where many commercial establishments were located.
However, those residents in some sectors of the MAA who have been able to secure a building permit have been allowed to return just to repair or reconstruct their homes.
Sector 1 residents were given this chance starting in July. Those with homes in Sectors 2 and 3 were allowed back in August while those in Sectors 8 and 9 will get the greenlight this November.
While repairs and reconstruction of structures is being allowed on a staggered basis, actually living inside the MAA is out of the question.
Del Rosario estimates that this would only be allowed in mid-2021.
"I think by mid-2021 we will have electricity and water already then they can go back, those who have constructed their houses," he said.
The wait would be worthwhile, he said, because the government wants to establish a centralized system of potable water for each household, to replace the pre-siege system where each household had to look for their own water source.
Over 100,000 Marawi residents remain displaced. The government is targeting the construction of 5,400 units of temporary houses to accommodate those residents who have no other homes to go to.
Some 2,400 of these have been completed while the rest are expected to be up in 2020.
Most residents outside the MAA but still in the city have already begun occupying their homes. In some parts, streets are busy with foot traffic and car traffic, signs of a return to normalcy.
Del Rosario is targeting the completion of the MAA reconstruction in December 2021. (READ: Marawi reconstruction poised to begin – finally)
The rehabilitation of this central portion is estimated to cost P13.1 billion. For the rehabilitation of areas outside MAA and including nearby towns of Butig and Piagapo, the cost estimate is P47.4 billion, for a total of P60.5 billion. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at email@example.com.