MARAWI, Philippines: It has been nearly a year since Kadaffy had to flee his home. When gunfire started in Marawi city on May 23, he grabbed a few clothes and fled.
He thought he was only going to be gone a few days.
“A day after the Marawi siege erupted, lots of people came here. Members of the Islamic State (IS) passed by on motorbikes,” he said. “They said: Join us, this is the right path to heaven.”
Marawi was besieged on May 23, 2017 by hundreds of local and foreign militia waving black IS flags. The Philippine government imposed martial law, and a five-month battle between troops and militants ensued, flattening large parts of the city.
The conflict displaced more than 200,000 civilians. Forty-seven civilians were killed in the fighting, with 165 deaths for police and security forces. Official estimates put militants killed in action at 987.
One year on, Kadaffy has finally been allowed to return and see his house for the first time.
“I don’t know what to feel about it, when you’ve put everything you’ve saved on this house,” he said as we walked up to his old neighbourhood.
“And then when you come back, you see it’s gone. That’s when you will realise that all you’ve worked hard for is now gone.”
We turned a corner, and there was only a hole and a pile of rubble where his house used to be. It was completely destroyed by the airstrikes.
“This is where my room was. Now it’s gone, the whole house is gone. This is all that’s left of it,” he said shakily pointing to empty spaces.
The siege left the centre of Marawi in rubble, and 50,000 families have now been allowed by authorities to return home.
But around 11,000 families – those who lived in the main battle zone - are still waiting to go back. The siege destroyed 95 per cent of the 250ha area of land that became the main battle area, or Ground Zero.
For now, the government has been opening up the area sector by sector, giving residents three days to salvage as many things as they can before the site is closed for rehabilitation.
Each morning queues of cars that have parked there since the night before form outside the entrance as residents wait for their turn to go in.
They come in with empty vans and leave with doors, bed frames, bits of clothing and pottery – anything they can salvage from the ruins of their homes.
THE TASK OF REBUILDING
The Marawi siege resulted in 11 billion pesos (US$210 million) in property damage and 6.6 billion pesos in economic loss. The government has put the cost of rehabilitating the city at around US$1.4 billion.
Philippine finance secretary Carlos Dominguez said the government has identified 902 priority projects, with close to half of the funding to be drawn from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Project Fund.
The other sources of financing for these priority projects under the Bangon Marawi Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Recovery Plan (BMCRRP) - approved in early April - will come from the various government agencies.
Other countries and institutes such as China, Japan, the European Union, Singapore, the Asian Development Bank and the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance have also pitched in.
The focus will first be on clearing the debris, a task that could take six months. Then the rehabilitation will start the rebuilding of the city centre - almost from scratch.
The government will then construct public facilities and residents will be given funds to reconstruct their own homes.
An inter-agency taskforce called Task Force Bangon Marawi (TFBM) was set up last June to facilitate the rehabilitation, which is expected to start in June and be complete by 2021.
CONTROVERSY BEHIND CHINESE-LED CONSORTIUM
A Chinese-led consortium consisting of five Chinese firms and four Filipino companies has been chosen as the developers of the hardest hit area.
However it was recently revealed that two Chinese companies poised to win the 17.2 billion peso contract to rehabilitate the city were once blacklisted by the World Bank over corrupt practices in the Philippines.
China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC) and China Geo Engineering Corporation (CGC) allegedly colluded with local companies in the Philippines to rig the bidding of road projects partly financed by the international financing institution, according to a World Bank investigation report in 2009.
The World Bank barred CSCEC and CGC for a period of six and five years, respectively, from participating in projects financed by the bank.
In Marawi, there will be no public bidding but their designs will be subject to a “Swiss challenge” – when a government invites the private sector to make competing offers for a public project - that is expected to be complete by May 25 and the project awarded on May 31.
The consortium will build roads, provisions for underground utilities, parks and recreational sites, a centralised wastewater treatment facility, a barangay complex, health centres, a multipurpose hall, classrooms, a convention hall, a memorial site, and port facilities, as well as other public infrastructure projects.
Land ownership is also an issue.
Only residents with official titles will be able to build houses. Many residents do not have official titles for the land they occupy, while those who do have titles might find them overlapping with other claims.
There is also paranoia of land grabbing by the government, especially in its quest to widen roads and instal other public infrastructure.
Then, there is the controversy over a proposed military camp. According to the government, about 6000ha of land is a military reservation, 2000ha of which is inside Marawi city.
The military is now willing to retain just 50ha.
Land has been a historical trigger of wars in Mindanao and a paper by the Asia Foundation, an international development organisation, warns that a failure to address land issues could further stoke conflict and make people more susceptible to joining terrorist groups.
The government meanwhile, has created the adjudication board – the Land Dispute Arbitration Committee – to address concerns that will arise from the large-scale land titling programme.
Before rehabilitation can even start, many dangers and challenges remain in clearing the so-called Ground Zero.
Residents who have gone back are still finding skeletal remains of those who lost their lives during the siege.
Also, according to the military, they have only managed to clear 80 per cent of improvised explosive devices and unexploded ordinances - so residents need to be careful when trying to sift through the rubble.
“The challenges is to ensure people have access to their homes but also to ensure their safety and security,” said Usec Felix Castro, field office manager of TFBM.
“For one, it took time for army engineers to recover the unexploded ordinances because they did not have sufficient equipment for the job and of course it's a big area.
“This is a 250ha piece of land composed of many buildings, so it really took a while for them to clear the area – and they are still clearing the place; so we’ve have tried to explain this to the residents.”
Many local residents also feel left out from big decisions on the ongoing rehabilitation plans and worry that the cultural essence and aspects will be taken out in the government’s attempt to “build back better”.
“The government can reconstruct buildings that have been destroyed, the bridges and other public facilities, but the challenge in the coming days is how to reconstruct and how to reconcile the strong relationship broken by the Marawi siege,” said Sultan Abuk Hamidul Atar, spokesperson for the Ranao Multi-Stakeholders Movement, a group representing locals displaced from Marawi.
“The recommendation would be to include people for social cohesion: How to come up with a very good programme so that the people can heal from the impact of the Marawi siege.”
It will be a long drawn out process with multiple stakeholders and clashing interests.
In the meantime, people like Kadaffy have no other choice but to wait for a time when they can return home and start re-building the lives they once had.