A resident tries to collect salvageable belongings from her destroyed house during a visit to the main battle area in Marawi City TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images

The Philippines’ Chinese Invaders

President Rodrigo Duterte’s pivot to China in October 2017 has led to a $328 million plan to rebuild Marawi City, recently liberated from the control of ISIS-affiliated extremists. But the reconstruction plan could fuel the fans of Islamic radicalism again.

MANILA – Ironic. That is how Sultan Abdul Hamidullah Atar described the planned rehabilitation of Marawi, the capital of Lanao del Sur province on the Philippine island of Mindanao, a year after the Maute Group, also known as the Islamic State of Lanao, launched an attack on the city on May 23, 2017. The five-month battle that followed resulted in the death of more than 1,000 people and displaced 360,000 more.

Marawi’s people, called Maranaos, are fiercely independent. Like the rest of the Moros (as the Muslim peoples of Mindanao are known), the Maranaos (or “People of the Lake,” because they have built their lives and homes by Lake Lanao) were never conquered or colonized by the Spanish, the Americans, or the Japanese, as opposed to other Filipinos from the Luzon and Visayas regions. But now, as Atar noted, they view the participation of Chinese firms in the rehabilitation of Marawi as an intrusion, if not outright invasion.

A consortium composed of five Chinese firms and four Filipino partner companies has submitted a master plan for rebuilding the conflict-torn city. The master plan aims to transform the main battleground in Marawi City – which, prior to the siege, was known for its bustling trade, grand mosques, and dynamic madrassas – into a tourist destination. The $328 million plan, covering 250-hectares, is modern and glitzy, with sprawling walkways, grandiose waterfront resorts, Instagram-worthy parks and plazas, an eco-trail, and a convention hall.