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A better Marawi

By: Senator Manny Villar

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have indicated that the end to the Marawi crisis might be near.

The AFP, in fact, suggested that they might be able to reclaim all strategic positions taken by the Maute Group by the end of October.

This is a welcome development especially to our suffering brothers and sisters in the Islamic City of Marawi, Lanao del Sur, who had to endure a lot after the local terror group attacked their communities more than four months ago.

Let us hope that Marawi residents can go back to their villages soon and resume normal lives. I know this is difficult given the devastation – physical, economic, and personal – brought about by the brutal siege by a group of bandit that has pledged allegiance to ISIS.

But our nation is resilient. I have no doubt that our kababayans in Marawi will bounce back from this tragedy and rebuild their community. It is important to look forward and imagine a new community rising out of the ashes of the city and anchored on its history, culture, and identity.

I am glad that the government has started the preparations for the rebuilding of Marawi. For instance, around 5,000 temporary shelters are now being built for Marawi evacuees. This represents the initial phase of reconstructing Marawi.

The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) has announced that it plans to construct prefabricated housing that can be built in ten days and which subscribes to international standards.

The Department of Finance is seeking additional budget for the rehabilitation program which already has P15 billion for the next two years (P5 billion for 2017; P10 billion for 2018).

The Senate is also planning a P500-million subsidy for a loan facility for Marawi residents through the Land Bank of the Philippines.

I am glad that the Senate has put together a special committee on the Marawi reconstruction in order to increase the level of convergence between executive and legislative actions.

If there is anything we should have learned from past efforts to rehabilitate from a tragedy – the Zamboanga siege, the Visayas earthquake, and Yolanda – it is that we need to act fast. We need to rebuild homes fast so that our people can start rebuilding their lives and their future.

The rebuilding of Marawi City must be done with the same intensity and decisiveness as the military operations against the Maute group.

I am also happy that our friends from around the world have pledged their support. China, Japan, US, and other countries have signified their support for the reconstruction of Marawi.

In another important step, the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) has announced that it will prioritize Marawi refugees in terms of the jobs needed for the reconstruction of the city. It has also launched skills training and livelihood program for them.

This is very important because Marawi residents need employment and livelihood in order to start imagining a bright future despite the tragedy that befell their city.

It is also a beautiful gesture to give them the jobs in the rebuilding of their city. In this way, they will have ownership – and therefore, will take pride in – the rise of a new and better Marawi.

It is especially critical to provide the youth with education and livelihood. Studies have shown that one of the strategies of the Islamic State in recruiting members and sympathizers is by exploiting social problems like unemployment, injustice, and inequities. They prey on the disillusionment of young people and turn them to violent extremism.

We in government, business, and civil society all need to help shape a better Marawi.

We need to realize that the successful rebuilding of Marawi is not just beneficial for the people of Marawi or Mindanao but also for the whole Filipino nation.

It will enhance our unity as a people. It will showcase to the whole world the strength of character of the Filipino.

And it will send a message to terrorists organizations – you cannot intimidate us.

Decent, peace-loving Filipinos will prevail.

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(For comments/feedback email to mbv secretariat at gmail or visit www.mannyvillar.com.ph.)

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