[OPINION] Marawi and imperial Manila

Social distance

The physical distance between Manila and Marawi is not the problem. Social distance is. Sociologists measure social distance in terms of the frequency, intensity, and quality of interactions between groups.

There is a social distance that exists between Manila's experts and Marawi's affected families. Erudite knowledge and technical expertise make it difficult to listen to local voices. What do the locals know after all about reconstruction?

Widening the gap is corruption and the presence of gatekeepers like politicians and other policy elites. Experts may also have interests to protect, either their own profession or the very class they belong to.

Social distance is the unquestioned assumption whenever technocrats appear on television to talk about what needs to be done in Marawi. There is no denying that they have extensive experience in urban planning. They are aware of global benchmarks, the technical details of which are elusive to the everyday audience.

But if we could only listen to the locals, we would be amazed at the issues they know they have to confront.

Drieza Lininding of the Moro Consensus Group has spoken out on looting and human rights violations during the conflict. Maylanie Boloto, a Maranao sociologist, decries corruption among officials and how tourism will benefit only a few – wealthy business owners and politicians, in particular.

Left unchecked, it can also create more displacement. Septrin John Calamba, a sociologist at MSU-Iligan Institute of Technology, has also brought up to me the problem of temporary housing. According to one of his Maranao students, "Okay lang kahit wala kaming McDo as long as makakauwi kami sa totoo naming tahanan." (We can forego McDo for being able to return to our true homes.)


Social distance creates more social distance. Experts may have the noblest intention of helping Marawi. But without listening to its people – in particular the poor – they inflict technocratic violence. In their hope of restoring Marawi's dignity, they in the end continue to take it away.

I have written this piece not to pull anyone down. After all, we need to be united as a people. But unity also calls for critical engagement.

The point is clear. To reconstruct Marawi is to bring back its people's dignity. In this sense we must become instruments of peace and not of imperial violence. We thus need to be more mindful of what affected communities have to say.

What does imperial Manila sound like? When its experts want to turn Marawi into a tourist destination. And they call it their patriotic duty.

For the sake of Marawi, we need to stop talking and start listening. – Rappler.com


Jayeel S. Cornelio, PhD is the Director of the Development Studies Program at the Ateneo de Manila University. He was a visiting a professor in the Department of Sociology at the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology. His new work is on religion and violence, a project funded by the National Academy of Science and Technology as a recipient of the 2017 Outstanding Young Scientist Award. You can find him on Twitter @jayeel_cornelio.

Jayeel Cornelio

Jayeel Cornelio, PhD is Associate Professor and the Director of the Development Studies Program at the Ateneo de Manila University. A sociologist of religion, he is a recipient of the 2017 Outstanding Young Scientist Award from the National Academy of Science and Technology. He i...