OUR MARAWI: God Wants Marawi Back

(This piece, written by Suhaini Nasher D. Pagadilan, won first place in the Essay-Writing Contest sponsored by the Office of Provincial Board Member Jeff Adiong in June 2020, on the theme “Hope Amidst All: Ramadhan in the time of pandemic; Eid’l Fitr on the siege’s anniversary.” Pagadilan passed away on January 2, 2021 at the age of 33).

It is the end.

It may be the end.

It will be the end.

Or not.

You choose.

Marawi is still in ruins and its people are fettered to a huge trap of dire uncertainties. The struggle has been enormous ever since and the sufferings are piling up like dumped garbage in a wasteland for the past three years. The stench in the air is already so nauseating, you would want to throw up and fall down to the ground; to the damp and tarred surface of Ground Zero.

I do not remember the date anymore because my entire system refused to go back to that dreadful day that started it all. Yet, the pains kept coming back and the resulting agony gets deeper and more excruciating to the soul. Three years and practically nothing has changed. The wounds were not healed and it seems that the world around Marawi’s sick condition has moved on unwantedly.

And now, three years of homelessness, hunger and injustice is coupled with a suffocating pandemic that is COVID-19. The ropes are not loose yet but we are tied much tighter by an enemy that we would never see. God knows which throat will break next. The sad part is that we have left more people into the open: clueless evacuees who might be gasping for their last air in the next hours or so while many simply pass by their already dilapidated tents that were never sturdy in the first place.

Being hopeful these days is exhausting. We are all fighting a war we could never seem to win. We are rather losing every day, every week, every month from the years that gone by. I may sound exaggerating but this is the truth I have come to accept.

It makes it difficult for me to convince my own students in my community engagement and solidarity classes that we can still cure the ills and fix the gaps when they, themselves, are still oblivious of both the bigger and smaller pictures of the Marawi scenario. Their perspectives have gone so limited, perhaps because of the same hopelessness they already share with all of Marawi.

This is both saddening and frustrating.

But God intervened in a very special way.

Ramadhan came in our most unprepared form, similar to how unprepared many of us were from three years ago. This time, however, the unpreparedness was not due to being internally displaced but because of the growing fears of a corona virus that affected the entire globe. We were mandated to stay in our homes which logically limited our preparations. We bought supplies in panic because of scarcity and soaring prices. We all have to conform and obey to tight protocols. We have to strictly observe social distancing when out in the streets. We have to reach our havens before curfews are off. All summed up to our new normal.

As a trade-off, we were able to come together as families in almost all of our dealings. We prayed together in our homes. We shared meals and found greater comfort with each other’s presence. We built better vigilance and gained greater rapport. We cascaded messages of facts and hope together from all media platforms available. We learned and re-learned necessities together. We were there for each other, every step of the way. We made sure that all of us will be safe and sound.

We were united.

We were one.

We were home to and for each other.

And the universe conspired.

Then arrived Eid’l Fit’r and brought us back to that fateful day that changed our lives forever. But what were we reminded of? Perhaps neither the horrors nor the countless plights almost all sectors have to take. Not the fact that action plans were not as clear and concrete as they should be. Not even the many fund drives initiated by various collectives to ease up the glaring needs of many. These are things we are gravely tired of already.

Eid’l Fit’r reminded that we have another home to rebuild together, the same way we were able to rebuild our own homes and families while we went through all the limitations God has set for us through the pandemic. Ramadhan became so much more meaningful this year because it became our sole opportunity to renew not just our faiths but our zest to continue the fight we started three years ago. We were retooled with commitment and re-equipped with vibrant inspirations to move forward and win.

The message is coming together and making it together all for the love of our home, Marawi. Now is the time to act better and wiser.

It is the end for all the doubts and fears that blocked the horizon from us for three straight years. It may be the end if we will keep turning a blind eye to the apparent remains of apathy and lack of resolve. It will be the end if we will not muster the stronger beginnings Marawi deserves from all of us.

You choose. Choose what matters most, not only to you but to every single exhausted spirit who yearns for a home to come back to. God wanted this epiphany to take place amongst us. It is not anymore the hope of yearning but the hope that is living. We are the hope God wanted us to be and God wanted us to have. God wanted Marawi to be our home again.

God wants Marawi back.

This message of hope is clear.

It is you and I.

It is we.

It is us together.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Suhaini Nasher D. Pagadilan finished Communication Studies at the Mindanao State University in  Marawi in 2009. He was a member, mentor, and coach of the MSU Marawi Debate Varsity where he was able to train a lot of his students and colleagues well enough to win local, regional, and national competitions. Pagadilan was a Senior High School Instructor at Ibn Siena Integrated School in Marawi City where he started a debate society with only six debaters to encourage his students to actively participate in class. That debate society eventually expanded to become the Ibn Siena Academic and Altruistic Collective (ISAAC) to include training in arts, quizzing, debating, public speaking, among others. ISAAC also helped tutor students in Math and other subjects. He passed away on January 2, 2021 at age 33 but his short life made such a big impact on his students, colleagues, and friends whose heartfelt tributes to him speak of Pagadilan’s dedication to mentor young debaters, students, and Meranaw youths by being their worst critic and their best friend at the same time)R