Millions of dollars earmarked for the rehabilitation of the southern Philippine city of Marawi, destroyed in a battle with Islamic State militants three years ago, have been sent back to the national treasury due to bureaucratic delays, officials said Monday.
The funds – about 406.5 million pesos (U.S. $8 million) – had lapsed due to slow disbursement approval by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund and the president’s office, acting Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado said.
The fund “releases are contingent on the NDRRMF Council’s endorsement and the Office of the President’s approval,” Avisado said.
President Rodrigo Duterte had promised to rebuild Marawi City as soon as possible, with China, Russia, Japan and the United States pledging to help.
IS-linked militants seized Marawi, a city of 200,000, on May 23, 2017, and fought government troops for five months before finally being driven out. The battle included aerial bombings and killed as many as 1,200 people, most of them militants, officials said.
The funds returned to the treasury were part of 5.1 billion pesos ($100 million) earmarked for the Marawi Recovery, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Program under the 2018 national budget. About 4.4 billion pesos ($86.5 million) had been released as of Dec. 31, 2019.
Meanwhile, thousands who fled Marawi remain in evacuation centers or with relatives. They have appealed to the government to speed up rehabilitation efforts and allow them to return home.
Haroun Alrashid Lucman Jr., a former regional vice governor, said the government had failed to deliver on its promises.
“We are now seriously planning to bring our people back to their homes with or without government consent,” Lucman said.
“Government failure leaves us with no other choice. What our people see now is a government depriving them of their basic rights,” he said.
Drieza Lininding, the leader of a group of young professionals, academics and activists called the Moro Consensus Group of Marawi, slammed the funding delays.
“This proves that the problem really lies in the bureaucracy of the government. But it is us, the displaced, who continue to pay the price of incompetence by those handling the rehabilitation,” Lininding told BenarNews.
He said many displaced residents have expressed anger but can do next to nothing more than two years after the militants were defeated on Oct. 23, 2017.
“A lot have been suffering and many can’t get assistance from the government. But the saddest part is, there’s a lot of money,” Lininding said of the returned funds.
Bai Darangen, a Muslim student leader at the Mindanao State University, said those involved in the rehabilitation process should be held accountable for the delays.
“If it was handled right, many residents would have benefitted,” she said.
Jeoffrey Maitem in Cotabato City, Philippines contributed to this report.