Marawi’s first harvests to build back better » Manila Bulletin News

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By John Tria

John Tria

On the anniversary of Typhoon Yolanda, not a few have drawn comparisons between this devastating natural calamity and an equally notorious aftermath of rehabilitation. Warnings against repeating the same debacles and failures in Marawi’s own rehabilitation reverberate loudly.

Thus, rather than appoint politicians like former senator and eventual presidential candidate Mar Roxas, government has declared that the rehabilitation effort will fall under only one set of former military officers, taking a clearer perspective and therefore, basis for accountability. We will be monitoring the effectiveness of this approach, and hope for the best, and will be vigilant to check for abuses and pitfalls.

Some roses from the rubble

Recent news from the rehabilitation front in Marawi shows slowly emerging signs of coming normalcy. There has been a flurry of accounts of people providing assistance to the Marawi evacuees. Beyond relief goods, they have given seeds and planting materials to produce locally grown vegetables. The first harvests are encouraging local farmers to continue such activities to provide locally available food for their eventual return to the city

Advocacies to prepare a master plan for Marawi have been put forward by the well meaning such as architect Jun Palafox, calling for incorporating Islamic elements to bring out the character of the city and its people. The call, therefore, is to build back better.

However, these master plans must proceed with utmost sensitivity to local sensibilities, character, and perspectives. Perhaps unlike what happened in Tacloban, a strong consultative process must accompany planning initiatives, engaging stakeholders to help lead the effort. The rising of Marawi will be a transformation for the entire Mindanao.

Schools are needed to beat terror

Conversations with civil society leaders in Mindanao point to the need for the Department of Education to aggressively strengthen the madrasah schools and other elementary and high schools in order to make sure the children are at school.

Apart from honing necessary competencies and skills, this also defeats the desire of some to use these school systems to radicalize and recruit youths.

Sources say that some terrorist elements, notably Al-Qaeda fronts, function as charitable foundations providing education assistance with the aim of using local schools to form young minds for radical struggle. This has become a security concern for many. There have been warnings that, unfortunately, some in government ignored for a long time, especially in the past administration. Many say these have been the entry point for groups like Maute.

A broader Intelligence effort  to protect our interests

That said, the development of better homegrown efforts at combating terror, such as the joint sea patrols with Malaysia and Indonesia, and what some friends have commented are a better partnership and intelligence gathering between Philippine intelligence community and their ASEAN counterparts.

As I have written before, the presence of Australian military and intelligence assistance has played a big role in getting information that has proven helpful. These have all built a broader and deeper intelligence effort that we expect will result in a more proactive.

Noting this, the United States government seems to have been caught in its own web of feared terror underneath its own cities and towns, with the New York bombing and successive mass shootings that have killed scores of its people.

Unlike the all-out open conflict that we have seen in Marawi, the insidious activities of terror groups in America will require the best of their human intelligence to ferret out and proactively neutralize threats before they happen. The US financial system is a particularly vulnerable target, as it is a platform for much of the rest of the world’s money to flow through for profit and investment. If their intelligence networks are caught sleeping, Wall Street may just crumble from within, taking with it a lot of our money.

Their government can no longer deny that terror cells have been operating for a long time. Whether this is with the support of certain foreign governments, we cannot say. But the 3.4 Million Filipino living in the Unites States make it a formidable base of middle class economic activity and it is right to express concerns about their safety. Even they should remain alert.

For the first time, the US finds itself on the defensive in Asia, like a player without a game, trumpeting its efforts as relevant while trying to assure us of control in their own backyard. The press conferences of Ambassador Sung Kim are telling in their tone. You are free to view the videos and comment.

Knowing this, our own government should take measures to shore up our own financial systems and take such vulnerabilities into account.

Martial law support continues

News outlets have reported that the Regional Peace and Order Council of Zamboanga supports martial law, and many business leaders from other parts of Mindanao support its objectives to create stability against the oppression of terror.

A blogger from Cotabato writes on how her friends are able to safely jog around in the early mornings. The city is ripe for the entry of Business Process Outsourcing activities to create local employment, as evening travel has been shown to be safer. That may very well happen in a while.

Even if ML is lifted, they say, the strong measures should remain. A sense of confidence in government’s strong presence has taken root. Nonetheless, we must also be vigilant.

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