ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews / 05 June)– Mothers were heroes in the Marawi crisis. One mother of TWELVE literally walked kilometers, dragged the whole brood together through rice paddies to escape any aerial or ground bullets towards Iligan City. Sadly, some evacuees did not survive: one lady collapsed to her death, and one nine-month old died from what was fever and probably trauma from the many shots heard on that fateful May 23, says the dad.
As of (June 3), TWO BABIES were born while in evacuation in the Balo-i town gymnasium. Another was born while on travel from escaping from Marawi City in a vehicle.
I talked to this young woman in abaya / black dress at the Buruun Center, an evacuation center in Iligan City. One thousand five hundred evacuees cramped in one hot center need more comfort rooms (CR). There is only one CR.
She was dressed in the same abaya five days since Day 2 (Wednesday, May 24) of the Marawi crisis. She still prays five times with it despite the rule on cleanliness during prayer .
Like several evacuees in Buruun, I did not smell anything odorous mashaallah. They continued to fast and they could smile. God must be enveloping them .
Water access for ablution is very valuable in these times. Water stations and dispensers too for clean water especially babies. After all spiritual solace in the midst of trauma from all kinds of artilleries heard from an almost Syria-like nightmare was their respite. What a tragic Ramadhan never seen before in this most majestic Baguio-like solace.
Tuesday, May 23 was the day Marawi died. Armed confrontation took over the national highway and later the city. Schools closed, banks, the hospital, fire trucks so that fires razed dozens of houses.
Is there a home to return to?
I am part of this Ranao Rescue Team that is calling against airstrikes, white flag campaign to protect civilians and setting up humanitarian passage , peace zones for the stranded, wounded and the cadavers. In Islam, bodies must be buried within ONE DAY.
The stories were harrowing. Hunger because relief could not easily get through. Dead bodies unburied, their stench seeping through the once pure Lake Lanao air, dogs eating their remains on the streets, a two-year old dead, fleeing evacuee collapsed and died walking length of kilometers .
Cultural barriers prevent many rescue efforts by the PNP (Philippine National Police), Army and Marines who are target by the Maute Group . Entry to Marawi City much moreso the commercial district (now in ashes) was limited because of military “control.”
So how can we help the volunteers?
Volunteerism in helmets and vests needed to rescue stranded residents by the thousands is needed.
There are 91,000 evacuees listed but Marawi has 200,000 residents and 1 million more in Lanao del Sur. MANY MORE ARE STRANDED, TRAPPED especially in Marinaut, Lilod and non-passable areas. Dozens of Christians are finding a contact for transportation and pick up ya Allah.
A group called Karancho helped thousand plus evacuees leave Mindanao State University MSU campus (whose majority 30,000 student and community population is Christian) during the strike of the conflict last Tuesday, May 23. One leader, Yasser Mikunug, did not even get to pick up his family and lead them to safety. He and Karancho immediately facilitated as they always did, the transport and monitoring of Christians to ride buses .
Load for communications is a big vital need for all rescuers.
Amidst all the Marawi confusion and chaos, last Thursday, Day 3 (May 25), we proposed to the Cabinet Members that a time to let residents out be made. We, volunteers of Ranao Rescue Team were housed here in Iligan City, while receiving calls, and receiving evacuees. Thanks TESDA for all the support, a miracle in assisting us.
On May 23 on TV, we watched a highway where many schools had children that day reek of armed exchanges. Houses were burning throughout the several days that followed. Our call for ceasefire unheeded to let STRANDED civilians out.
I was helpless.
My sister-in-law Doctor was trapped with other medical personnel in Amai Pakpak Medical Center (APMC) far from the entrance and Emergency Room where the Maute endorsed one of their injured. Sister says the Maute boys even prayed together in the hospital.
The highway became the fighting ground. Our house was just at the far end from Basak Malutlut where armed exchange started. Mom and the non-Moro kasambahay hurriedly packed their belongings, joined the traffic congestion of cars that were fleeing Marawi. Many had started to walk.
Like an exodus, people were fleeing, some without any bags just their own self. Some feared there was a six hour ultimatum that people will be attacked. Transportation was mixed. No traffic management going towards Saguiaran and Pantar, kilometers away.
Double hunger was happening, Ramadhan and lack of access from food.
Iligan City was 39 kilometers but many had walked the length to escape Marawi. Now Iligan has 20,000 evacuees. A week later in evacuation centers, I saw babies on floors, a girl suffering fever, a mother who has not seen her husband since Day 1 because he guarded the Marawi Mayor. Dozens were cramped in homes, home-based evacuations needed relief.
Right now evacuees need pampers for children, hygiene kits, airfans, moreso psycho-social counselling and even livelihood. Will the children get back to schools? I don’t know. Civil society work continues Inshaallah, may Ramadhan be not so difficult for the fasting. Ameen. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Samira Ali Gutoc-Tomawis, Ll.B., co-founder of the Young Moro Professionals recently resigned as Commissioner of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission because while acknowledging that drafting the Bangsamoro Basic Law is “our collective duty, but when it’s as a mother, our homes invaded, bullet ridden, villages, schools burned, mosques vacated, ulama dead, children made hungry, it is non-negotiable before God to protect them and my child first before anything. Samira had earlier served as an assemblywoman, women sector, of the Regional Legislative Assembly, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and was former director, Al-Amanah Islamic Bank, Inc.; former director, Marawi Resort Hotel, Inc.)