Pained voices from Mindanao

Evacuation Center in Marawi City. Photo by Erwin Mascariñas.

There’s so much pain and suffering in their voices and they all have a common message: End the airstrikes in Marawi , lift Martial Law in Mindanao and resume peace talks.

In a gathering of persons and groups from Mindanao last Thursday, stories about panic, fear, hunger and fatigue since the declaration of martial Law by President Duterte last May 23 were shared.

Norkaya Mohamad said in normal times, it takes only 45 minutes from Marawi to Iligan City. When they fled Marawi last week, it took them eight agonizing hours .

She said the elder family members didn’t want to leave Marawi but the situation became unbearable without electricity and water. And bombing had started.

There was so much confusion, fear and panic. She said while trying to get members of her own family together, she saw two children in a state of shock looking for their parents.

Samira Gutoc’s notes, read during the forum, tells of fervent faith in the midst of suffering. It’s heart rending:

“I saw this young woman in abaya at the Buruun Center dressed in the same abayafivedays since Day 2 , Wednesday of the Marawi crisis. She still prays five times with it despite the rule on cleanliness during prayer .Water access for ablution is very valuable in these times. After all spiritual solace in the midst of trauma from all kinds of artilleries heard from an almost Syria-like nightmare was their most recent memory.

“What a Ramadhan.”

Photo by Erwin Mascariñas

Gutoc is part of the “Ranao Rescue Team that is calling against airstrikes, a white flag campaign to protect civilians and setting up humanitarian passage , peace zones for stranded, wounded and the cadavers to be set up.”

Cellphone load would be a big help, she said.

She continued “The stories are harrowing. Dead bodies unburied, dogs eating their remains on the streets, a two year old dead, fleeing evacuee collapses and dies in walking length of kilometers .

Cultural barriers prevent many rescue efforts by the PNP, Army and Marines who are target by the Maute group, she said..

She described the situation in the evacuation center: “A week later in evacuation centers , I see babies on floors, a girl suffering fever, a mother who has not seen her husband since Day 1 because he guards the Marawi Mayor . Dozens were cramped in homes, homebased evacuations needing relief.

“Right now evacuees need pampers for children, hygiene kits ,air fans, more so psycho-social counselling and even livelihood.”

Today, classes start in public schools. Gutoc asked, “Will the children get back to schools, I don't know.”

Photo by Erwin Mascariñas

Sen. Bam Aquino was at the forum and he said he is holding the military officials to their commitment thatas soon as the firefighing is over and the situation in Marawi stabilizes, Martial Law would be lifted even before the 60-day period that Congress has approved separately.

He said there were nine of them in the Senate who pushed for a joint session to deliberate on the President’s declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao so the public would know straight from security managers the reason for the declaration but “we didn’t have the numbers.”

Aquino said Martial Law “Martial law is best for on ground operations. That’s why we have given them that space. But as soon as ground operations are over, it should be lifted. If not, it might even worsen the situation on the ground. “

What is needed, he said are long-term solutions – anti- poverty measures, providing more opportunities in terms of jobs and business education.

He said he noticed that many of those enticed to join the Maute group were young people. “It goes to show lack of opportunities, alternatives. We have to be serious about the solution which are developmental in nature and not military.”


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