Marawi and imperial Manila Featured

Marawi and imperial Manila

Everyone wants to rebuild Marawi. Everyone has an opinion. And the most vocal are in Manila.
There are experts who say that Marawi must be rebuilt in the image of world-class cities like Dubai or Geneva. They also want to turn it into a tourist destination that features the unparalleled beauty of Lake Lanao. In the spirit of Hiroshima, a proposal has been raised too that the ruins be left as such as a compelling reminder of what violence can do.
There's no denying that I too am Manila-based. But it's time that we paused for a minute and took at what experts say with a grain of salt. The intention to help is clearly there but it should not stop us from engaging in quality conversations about the future of Marawi.
The goal of course is not to add to the noise. What we want is a clearer, more hopeful vision.
Marawi's future, after all, is the future of the rest of the nation.
Technical problem?
To be sure, nobody wants what happened to Tacloban to happen once again in Marawi. It is unfortunate that while some residents in Tacloban have fully recovered, many others are still in shelters that are meant to be temporary – 4 years after Yolanda.
But rebuilding Marawi is not only a technical problem. This means that approaching reconstruction as a question of urban planning is inadequate. There are two reasons.
The first is that there is an elephant in the room: violent extremism. The Maute Group clearly exploited the vulnerabilities of the community to advance its intention. The region is the poorest in the country. Many of its youth are out-of-school, displaced, and undernourished. They are all growing up in an environment where conflict is normal.
What this means is that the reconstruction process cannot take for granted the possibility that violence would be repeated. I am fully convinced that Islam is a religion of peace. But like any other religion, it has taken on violent modes with ideologies that feed off people's frustrations and anger.
Reconstruction should thus ask a far bigger question: how do we make violent extremism irrelevant?
The second reason is that Marawi is not an object. Marawi is so much bigger than the destroyed buildings we often see on television. It is the sum of its rich history, fascinating culture, and warm people.
Rebuilding destroyed roads and its broken infrastructure, no matter how crucial, will not bring back the lost dignity of its displaced families. Its Maranao residents lost their livelihood, homes, and memories. To top it all, they lost relatives.
Restoring their lost dignity is going to be a difficult, if not impossible, feat. And so the least experts could do is to first listen to its people and give due respect to what they believe they can also do.
The unfortunate reality is that when Manila-based experts talk about Marawi, you will never hear in their accounts the aspirations of its people. The danger is this: Haironesah Domado, a Maranao Muslim, suggests that at the rate things are going, authorities "run the risk of making Maranao returnees feel they are being treated by actual outsiders as strangers in their own homes."
Social distance
The physical distance between Manila and Marawi is not the problem. Social distance is. Sociologists measure social distance in terms of the frequency, intensity, and quality of interactions between groups.
There is a social distance that exists between Manila's experts and Marawi's affected families. Erudite knowledge and technical expertise make it difficult to listen to local voices. What do the locals know after all about reconstruction?
Widening the gap is corruption and the presence of gatekeepers like politicians and other policy elites. Experts may also have interests to protect, either their own profession or the very class they belong to.
Social distance is the unquestioned assumption whenever technocrats appear on television to talk about what needs to be done in Marawi. There is no denying that they have extensive experience in urban planning. They are aware of global benchmarks, the technical details of which are elusive to the everyday audience.
But if we could only listen to the locals, we would be amazed at the issues they know they have to confront.
Drieza Lininding of the Moro Consensus Group has spoken out on looting and human rights violations during the conflict. Maylanie Boloto, a Maranao sociologist, decries corruption among officials and how tourism will benefit only a few – wealthy business owners and politicians, in particular.
Left unchecked, it can also create more displacement. Septrin John Calamba, a sociologist at MSU-Iligan Institute of Technology, has also brought up to me the problem of temporary housing. According to one of his Maranao students, "Okay lang kahit wala kaming McDo as long as makakauwi kami sa totoo naming tahanan." (We can forego McDo for being able to return to our true homes.)
Social distance creates more social distance. Experts may have the noblest intention of helping Marawi. But without listening to its people – in particular the poor – they inflict technocratic violence. In their hope of restoring Marawi's dignity, they in the end continue to take it away.
I have written this piece not to pull anyone down. After all, we need to be united as a people. But unity also calls for critical engagement.
The point is clear. To reconstruct Marawi is to bring back its people's dignity. In this sense we must become instruments of peace and not of imperial violence. We thus need to be more mindful of what affected communities have to say.
What does imperial Manila sound like? When its experts want to turn Marawi into a tourist destination. And they call it their patriotic duty.
For the sake of Marawi, we need to stop talking and start listening. –
Jayeel S. Cornelio, PhD is the Director of the Development Studies Program at the Ateneo de Manila University. He was a visiting a professor in the Department of Sociology at the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology. His new work is on religion and violence, a project funded by the National Academy of Science and Technology as a recipient of the 2017 Outstanding Young Scientist Award. You can find him on Twitter @jayeel_cornelio.

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