CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – Marawi civic leaders and officials breathed a sigh of relief after the Senate approved its version of the Marawi siege victims compensation bill on Monday, January 31.
Now that the agonizing wait of thousands of Marawi residents is coming to an end, the leaders urged both the Senate and House of Representatives to immediately convene a bicameral conference to reconcile their respective versions of the compensation bill.
“We are now a step closer to rebuilding whatever is left of our properties. Our urgent call is for the Senate and House to convene and elect the bicam members,” said Drieza Lininding, leader of the Marawi Consensus Group (MCG).
The Lower House passed its version, House Bill 9225 or the Marawi Compensation Act, on September 6, 2021.
A bicameral committee, composed of members of the Senate and Lower House, has to settle the conflicting versions of the two bills before President Duterte signs them into law.
Lininding said they hoped Duterte would sign it before the 17th Congress adjourns this June.
The reconstruction of Marawi City has been a source of tension and frustration among residents affected by the battle between the government and the ISIS-inspired Maute Group in 2017.
In a 2020 report, the International Alert, a non-governmental organization, said close to 127,000 Marawi residents were displaced or living in temporary shelters three years after the Marawi siege.
The NGO said many other displaced residents were living with their relatives or friends, and scattered all over, like in the cities of Cagayan de Oro, Davao, Cebu, and Manila.
Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM), a government agency tasked to rebuild the city, claimed that 80% of public infrastructure in Marawi has been reconstructed as of December 2021.
TFBM officials said the funds released by the government were for government infrastructure only, and not for the reconstruction of houses and buildings owned by residents.
Many areas in the 24 barangays in the so-called “Most Affected Area” in Marawi are still in ruins and have been taken over by vegetation.
“What is the use of new masjids (mosques) if there are no people to pray in them?” Mindanao State University history professor Tirmizy Abdullah asked.
NGO worker Leah Tarhata Mehila lamented that many Marawi residents were scattered all around the country.
“Four years of suffering is enough,” Mehila said.
Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) parliament member Zia Alonto Adiong said the Senate’s passage of Senate Bill 2420 was “a step towards the social healing of the Marawi residents.”
“For so long, the residents have suffered, and giving the money directly to the beneficiaries will lessen their frustrations,” he said.
Adiong said he was glad that the Senate and House bills provided mechanisms where owners of properties that were demolished or destroyed as a result of the five-month Marawi siege may file their compensation claims.
If passed into law before the 17th Congress adjourns, Marawi civic leader and senatorial candidate Samira Gutoc said, residents would be able to demand compensation even after the new administration takes over. –Rappler.com
Froilan Gallardo is a Mindanao-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship