Compensating Marawi siege victims starts
A whiff of a fresh and gentle breeze of hope swept through the temporary shelter of Sagonsongan last week. The weary evacuee-victims of the 2017 Marawi siege who are desperate and on the verge of losing hope learned that, finally, the government will start paying compensation for the death of a family member and lost/damaged properties.
There was a visible collective sigh of relief among the evacuees, never mind that only a fraction would receive checks. At least the government is taking tangible steps to show that it is true to its promise.
It did not matter that the Marawi Compensation Board or MCB, the body that processes and decides on the legitimacy of claims and how much compensation should be paid, has prioritized the claims for death and structural damage (as distinguished from personal properties).
The victims were assured that their lost/damaged personal properties would come next. They can wait. If they have waited for nearly six years for the government's help, what are months or another year of delay?
A report in mainstream media that went viral on social media said: "The MCB will kick off its first distribution of checks for the first batch of Marawi residents with death claims on 20 November. To date, MCB has evaluated 59 death claims amounting to P26 million and around 303 structural claims amounting to P1.01 billion."
Senator Risa Hontiveros, who belongs to the opposition, sponsored the allocation package in the 2024 national budget bill. In fact, it could have been released earlier if not for the Comelec ban on government spending during the recent barangay elections.
Senator Hontiveros, upon interpellation by Senator Bato dela Rosa, an ardent supporter of the grant, responded, "This subcommittee provided P6 billion in unprogrammed funds in response to MCB's request for a P7-billion total allotment to settle the claims."
We know, however, that an allocation for such a fund hinges on Malacañang's approval.
There you have it, folks. There really is a reason to be optimistic, although, as a sage warns: "Don't count your chickens before they hatch."
The decision to start payments by 20 November, the target date, was very timely. It came at a time when the lease contract between the Marawi City government and landowners for the use of their land for the temporary housing of evacuees expired. However, there were assurances that they would not be ejected after the city mayor negotiated a lease extension.
Several public structures have been completed, although some need finishing touches. But these structures have already been used for big events in the city. What is left now is the construction of houses for the owners, which we anticipate will start in full swing once the compensation to the victims is released.
For a while, naysayers and gadflies expressed pessimism that enough funds would be appropriated despite the compensation law. They pointed to the P1-billion allocation appropriated in the General Appropriation Law for the current fiscal year 2023 as the template that will be followed in the 2024 national budget and the coming years, an amount that needs to be revised for the project.
This triggered a strong lobby by the MCB, the mayor of Marawi, and Moro civil society groups. By handing out the checks, the government is proving the naysayers wrong. The government is sensitive to the needs of a sector of society that has suffered recurring trauma and episodes of PTSD.
The amounts that will be released to the first batch of evacuees will be worth looking at. It will give us an inkling of how the MCB evaluates claims. Will they pay the whole amount being claimed by the victims? Or a fraction thereof? MCB, exercising a quasi-judicial function, was guided by the rules of evidence in submitting claims, including the credibility or integrity of the claimants and the witnesses.