The rebuilding of war-ruined sections of Marawi will be delayed until December, after the military finishes clearing the southern city of unexploded ordnance left over from a 2017 battle with Islamic State-linked militants, an official in charge of reconstruction said.
Meanwhile, thousands of families who were displaced by the five-month battle will likely remain in evacuation camps till September, said Housing Secretary Eduardo del Rosario, who chairs the Task Force Bangon Marawi that oversees the city’s rehabilitation and reconstruction.
Apart from unexploded bombs, the delay in reconstruction is also being caused by a reluctance among homeowners to allow army engineers to demolish their badly damaged structures, he said.
Del Rosario, who arrived here to inform residents at one relocation site, said he expected the government’s search for unexploded ordnance (UXOs) and the demolition of the ruined buildings to finally be completed before early November.
“I was told that all the debris and unexploded ordnance will be cleared by late October,” del Rosario said Thursday.
Reconstruction in the former battleground could only begin once safety engineers had determined the area to be safe, he said.
Del Rosario said he expected construction of “vertical structures” like houses and buildings to start by December after the debris management and unexploded ordnances ceased.
“That is our timetable to ensure that we can complete the rehabilitation of the most affected area by December 2021,” Del Rosario told displaced families at a camp in the village of Boganga.
Last March, Del Rosario promised IDP families that they could return to their homes by July as soon as the clearing ended.
But authorities later moved the date to early September, hoping that the clearance of UXOs would be finished by end of August.
He said there were 6,800 structures inside the 250-hectare former battleground. As of July, only 80 percent of property owners had given authorities their consent to demolish what remained of their homes.
Del Rosario said owners who still refused to give permission would have to pay for the demolition of their buildings.
Most of the buildings in Marawi’s 24 villages inside the main battle zone were destroyed after months of fighting in 2017 between the military and pro-Islamic State (IS) fighters led by Isnilon Hapilon.
Backed by foreign militants, Hapilon and his men dug in and engaged the troops in fierce guerrilla-style fighting in the city. He was killed in October 2017, five months after militants took over Marawi in a bid to make it an IS caliphate in Southeast Asia. When the dust cleared, as many as 1,200 militants, soldiers and civilians were killed in the fighting.
Nearly two years later, many of the city’s estimated 180,000 residents are living in temporary shelters or are staying with their relatives in cities outside of Marawi.
The residents have made numerous appeals for government officials to hasten their work and allow them to return to their houses inside “ground zero.”
Richel V. Umel contributed to this report from Iligan City, Philippines.