MANILA - After months of delay, the multibillion-peso rehabilitation of the worst-hit area in war-torn Marawi City broke ground Tuesday, as officials promised to revitalize the city devastated by a 5-month battle between government troops and terrorists last year.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said President Rodrigo Duterte commended the interagency Task Force Bangon Marawi "for developing and implementing a comprehensive rehabilitation and recovery program, in consultation with Muslim leaders, towards the rebuilding of a peaceful and prosperous Islamic city of Marawi that we all aspire.”
Rehabilitation of ground zero is estimated to cost P16 billion to P17 billion out of the roughly P72-billion price tag of rebuilding the entire city.
Duterte was supposed to be at Tuesday’s groundbreaking ceremony but had to "attend to equally important issues and affairs of the nation," Panelo said. The ceremony had been rescheduled from Oct. 17, when the President was also not available.
Marawi City Mayor Majul Gandamra said the groundbreaking for the rehabilitation of the so-called “ground zero,” which includes 24 of the city’s 96 barangays, puts and end to “our excruciating wait for developments regarding efforts to rebuild our city.”
“We are all aware that this has not been an easy task for all of us to handle. We had to wait for the national government to give its go signal. We all had to work with budgetary, time and other constraints,” Gandamra said in a speech at Marawi City’s Rizal Park.
“We had to endure the pain of uncertainty that has been agonizing us all and we have started wondering if our city would ever be rebuilt. With this groundbreaking, all of these have come to an end… In a few years from now we hope to see a beautifully and strongly rebuilt city of Marawi, which shall be the pride of all Maranao people.”
Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council Secretary-General Falconi Millar, meanwhile, said stakeholders should expect continuous rehabilitation work inside the 250-hectare area most affected by the conflict.
The first phase of the rehabilitation involves debris clearing and management. This shall start in “sector 1,” where some 411 houses are located.
The debris clearing, which alone will cost P75 million, will be undertaken by local firm FINMAT International Resources Inc. The firm hopes to finish clearing sector 1 of debris by January 2019.
Millar said debris clearing will be followed by the construction of waste water and sewerage systems, roads, and underground facilities. Existing roads will also be widened.
The government also aims to build a memorial site, a promenade by the Agus River and Lake Lanao, barangay halls, madrasas, health centers, a grand central market, port facilities, a transportation hub, convention centers, a museum, and a school of living tradition.
Millar said all rehabilitation efforts will take into consideration “Islamic and cultural sensitivities.”
Frustration has been growing among displaced residents of the city, who were still barred from reentering the area and rebuild their homes by themselves.
Millar said the government hopes to finish major rehabilitation and reconstruction work by the fourth quarter of 2021, half a year before the President steps down. He said residents should be able to reenter the city and rebuild their homes before 2020.
He also gave the assurance that no one will be displaced from their original homes and that no land will be taken from their original settlers.
At least 1,100 people, mostly terrorists, were killed in the 5-month siege that erupted between state forces and Islamic State-inspired terrorists in May 2017.
The firefights left much of the once bustling urban and cultural center in ruins.