By Manny Mogato, News5 editor at large
(OCTOBER 23, 2019) – Workers clearing debris in Marawiâ€™s ground zero on Wednesday discovered a 500-pound aerial bomb dropped from an Air Force plane during the five-month conflict, a government task force said, highlighting the risks in the rehabilitation efforts.
The discovery of the unexploded bomb, one of the biggest ordnance found in the cityâ€™s business center, the â€śmost affected areaâ€ť in the five-month battle with pro-Islamic State militants two years ago, is among factors that could potentially delay the 10 billion-peso Marawi rehabilitation, Task Force Bangon Marawi said.
Only about half of more than 5,600 structures in Marawi have been demolished and cleared for rehabilitation. A total of 3,018 structures in the ground zero had been demolished. The debris clearing is also expected to be completed next month so the rehabilitation can formally start, said the private contractor tasked to clear the city of debris.
Rodante Rodriguez, an engineer from the Eddmarie Construction, a company contracted by the task force to clear the area of bombs and debris, said the bomb was discovered after workers and soldiers found a deep hole in one of the areas in Marawiâ€™s business center.
“After the scanning confirmed there was presence of a bomb, we dug it about six meters to retrieve the 500-pound bomb,â€ť Rodriguez said in telephone interview with reporters. â€śIt was still intact,” he added.
The militaryâ€™s explosive and ordnance demolition unit (EOD) took care of the aerial bomb, which will be detonated on Saturday based on security protocols. A total of 567 various ordnance and explosive have been recovered from 24 villages in Marawi Cityâ€™s ground zero. The military dropped aerial bombs and rockets and the army fired mortars and howitzer rounds during the conflict.
Rodriguez said they have already recovered all the dud bombs that were dropped by the Air Force at the ground zero.
“We’re down to zero,â€ť he said. â€śAll the bombs dropped by the Air Force were already identified, some we already detonated. With regard to timeline, we met our deadline in advance in so far as debris management, including recovery of unexploded ordnance, bombs dropped by the Air Force. We found them all already, meaning zero.â€ť
He said they were using sophisticated drone-mounted ground penetrating radars and magnetometers to locate the unexploded bombs and were doing the final sweep before the companyâ€™s contract ends on Nov. 20.
Apart from unexploded bombs, Assistant Secretary Felix Castro of Task Force Bangon Marawi said they have to get permission from owners of ruined buildings and houses to demolish their structures and start the cityâ€™s rebuilding. Congress has appropriated 10 billion pesos to rebuild the city until 2021.
A separate bill is discussed in the lower house of Congress to allocate 30 billion pesos to pay residents damages, about one-third of the estimated cost of damages in terms of infrastructure, business losses and livelihood.
Nearly 170 soldiers and policemen and more than 1,600 Islamist militants and civilians died during the five-month conflict after pro-Islamic State Maute members and Abu Sayyaf Group militants seized Marawi City after botched operations to arrest Isnilon Hapilon in May 2017.
President Rodrigo Duterte, who was in Moscow at that time, imposed martial law to address the situation. It remained in effect until the end of December 2019 after two extensions. The military may recommend extending it for another year in the Muslim provinces but favored its lifting in some areas, including Davao City.