OUR MARAWI: Crying with Marawi

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“I was roused by the call from the minarets that broke the predawn silence. Not just one. Not just two. But a symphony from the muezzins calling the faithful to the first morning prayer, Fajr, from the masjids inside MSU campus. Joined by the fainter calls from masjids in the surrounding towns.

Same soulful melodious call. Plaintive as the kulintang. But different tones. Different pitches. Different rhythms.

The images of war torn Marawi flashed back in my mind. The ravages of a war that did not spare the mosques and the Roman Catholic St. Mary’s Cathedral. All silent and empty now.

Perhaps, these images too were in the minds of the muezzins as they beckon the faithful to prayer.

I walked out of Mam Ele’s house where I stayed overnight and strolled down the golf course. The sun still hiding beneath the horizon. The faint orange glow brightening at each step that I took. The grass still thick with moisture. The silhouette of the lazy mountain still dim against the light of dawn.

I remembered the first time I saw that mountain. It was the very first day I set foot on this campus. A mere boy of fifteen who, like most people from Luzon, was geographically challenged when it concerns Mindanao. With no internet and Google for instant information then, I was completely ignorant of the peoples and geographical features of this Land of Promise. Except for Mt. Apo, I was ignorant of the mountains of the island. Of this sleeping beauty that the people of the lake has enjoyed from time immemorial.

It’s almost fifty years since that day. The campus has changed a lot. More buildings. (Some just a shell of what they should have been. Sadly.) The wild sunflowers are gone but the golf course remained albeit in a deplorable state now. The view still breath taking. The Sleeping Lady still a wonder.

Sleeping Lady. Photo by ROMEO BALINGCONGAN

It’s almost a year since I wrote, “Marawi will rise again. MSU will be filled with dreamers once more!”

The dreamers have come back. Most of them still in bed and, perhaps, literally dreaming. Some I saw strolling lackadaisically on the golf course. A heartwarming sight.

But the heart of Marawi, the Most Affected Area, what used to be a beautiful view from the golf course, immortalized on canvass and glossy cartolina by student painters and on paper and film by photographers, still lies in shambles.”

It has been a little over a year now when I wrote the above but there is little movement to address the cry of Marawi.

What is it in the hearts of men that they turn a blind eye to the suffering and plight of the internally displaced peoples? And, not only turn a blind eye but even exploit the situation for their own selfish interests?

Billions of pesos have been donated for the rehabilitation of Marawi and for assistance to the internally displaced persons. Yet, hundreds of families still live in abject conditions within the evacuation centers. Many of them in tents that are poorly provided for. Many more in homes of relatives and friends or rented houses.

Such were my thoughts as I once more walked towards the golf course this morning.

Yesterday afternoon, I asked the workers that stayed in the building built on what was once part of the golf course that’s slowly being finished to allow me to go up to the top of the building where the view would be captivating. I knew because I entered the building and took pictures from there ten months ago, when the building was just the shell of what it was designed and funded for and anyone could enter at will. I wondered again why it was not finished on time then. Where the money went. But I was glad that, thanks to the efforts of the current President of MSU, the building is slowly but surely nearing completion. Finally.

The workers kindly allowed me. So I went up to the roof.

The view that greeted me was stunning. The faint early morning glow just a sliver of light. The lady mountain still a very dim outline against the horizon. There were scattered lights from the houses around the lake. The crescent moon smiled. Photo by ROMEO BALINGCONGAN

The view that greeted me was stunning. The faint early morning glow just a sliver of light. The lady mountain still a very dim outline against the horizon. There were scattered lights from the houses around the lake. The crescent moon smiled.

Sadly. No lights came from where hundreds were visible before, from the most affected area, the Ground Zero.

i sat on the concrete wall on the edge of the roof. Silently. Waited patiently.

Slowly, the lake started to shimmer. The sky slowly blossoming as the dawn gave way to a more majestic morning than a year ago. An even more awesome orange glow growing. Then the sun gently rose. Golden against the orange glow.

Slowly, the lake started to shimmer. The sky slowly blossoming as the dawn gave way to a more majestic morning than a year ago. Photo by ROMEO BALINGCONGAN

Once more, one of my favorite verses came to mind and filled my mind.

“The good man walks along the ever brightening light of God’s favor, Dawn gives way to morning splendor!”

Yet, as glorious as the sun rose, my heart sank as the war torn view came into light.

And, I cried.

(Romeo Balingcongan finished BSME at the Mindanao State University in Marawi City in 1973 and taught at its College of Engineering from 1973 to 2000. He is now involved as volunteer consultant to NGOs and CSOs that assist the IDPs (internally displaced persons) from Marawi Siege in rebuilding their lives and in peacebuilding in Mindanao)

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