ESSAY: Bakwit basics, post-Mamasapano By Marian Pastor Roces

They are taking it on the chin and bearing it. Grinning, in fact.

Some 120,000 Maguindanaos from various barangays of Mamasapano, Rajah Buayan, Sharif Aguak, Rajah Saudi Ampatuan, Guindulungan, Talitan, Talayan, Dam, Datu Salibo, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Datu Abdullah Sangki, and Datu Piang are evacuees, while the military operations play out against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

It has been two months since the January 25 “incident”—a word that does not quite capture the event—and it has been two months since they have had to shift from their houses and farms.

An evacuation camp in Talayan, Maguindanao. Photo by Marian Pastor Roces
An evacuation camp in Talayan, Maguindanao. Photo by Marian Pastor Roces

Over the last weekend, a request was formally made to the commanding general for a ceasefire so that kids can go to graduation ceremonies. The request was granted. The military, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) officials, and the evacuees grasp the nature of their roles in the ongoing saga.

The evacuees smile, sadly. Some laugh at the human condition that is their lot. A mother of four (she started at fifteen) says with a giggle that her present pregnancy owes to a bakwit environment where spouse and she need to capture some lovin’. The other women around laugh, too, and say, imagine, we lie down side by side with neighbors and strangers divided only by frail cloth curtain, imagine how hard is that!

They are unfortunately used to it. The basic fact about being bakwit in Mindanao’s war zones is that this is no new experience. Most everyone living in Ligawasan Marsh, the homeland of the Buayan Maguindanao and interior Iranun-speaking peoples, have been evacuees many times over.

It has been many times over even for the youth. For the babies, life is possibly brief.

These evacuees are—truth to tell—husbanding their dignity well.  PHoto by Marian Pastor Roces
These evacuees are—truth to tell—husbanding their dignity well. PHoto by Marian Pastor Roces

Yet during that brief time, there is no wanting of smiles, caresses, and expressions of hope in these dire straits.

And this is what is humbling about being with them. There is neither wailing nor gnashing of teeth. Neither whining nor heated temper appears to erupt in heat that must be more than 30 degrees in the shade. They endure the displacement and understand the operations against the BIFF.

They carry on. They have brought their miniscule livestock. The chicks have tiny ribbons of hastily cut cloth to visually connect with their owners. The fighting cock is given precious shade.

As best they can, they make aesthetically pleasing cubicles out of blankets and sundry cloths, and install mosquito netting that is folded in suspension during the day. Some managed to bring newly harvested rice, and grandmothers sit it out by winnowing rice in their cubicles.

Clothes and blankets are neatly folded. As at home, one presumes. They sweep their spaces while paying attention to news buzz and sundry announcements.

These evacuees are—truth to tell—husbanding their dignity well.

One of the expressions of that dignity is the forbearance they show the ARMM government, especially the ARMM DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development).

The ARMM bureaucracy with the help of DSWD is spending twelve million pesos a week to feed the evacuees. There has been adequate response to this new emergency. However, if the military needs more time to flush out the BIFF, there will be need (within one week from now) to secure rice and medicine beyond the allocated budgets of the regional agencies.

Of course there have been worse bakwit circumstances in the past, when murderers followed the communities on the run. Dignity was murdered, too, in those not-long-ago days.

Today, those memories are alive and are part of the Maguindanao imagination. That the present evacuees can manage to prevent that past from leaking into the present, enough to exercise equanimity in the face of yet another armed contest, has to oblige the rest of us Filipinos to pause, and appreciate the challenge to match that dignity with our ability to understand what is really at stake.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Marian Pastor Roces is an independent curator and institutional critic. She studies power. Her corporation, TAO INC, holds office in Makati City. But her projects bring her to interior spaces almost all the time. This piece was first posted on her Facebook wall. Permission to re-publish was granted to MindaNews by Ms Roces).