The Muslim communities today celebrate the Eid’l Fit’r—or the feast of breaking the fast. But the festivities are markedly absent in many evacuation centers that have now served as temporary sanctuary to thousands of displaced families from the Islamic City of Marawi.
At the Ceanurie community in Tomas Cabili, several families are staying at the homes of relatives. Those who have no relatives in Iligan have sought sanctuary at the Al Nur Islamie madrasah (Islamic school).
Stories of exodus
While waiting for the food from their community kitchen, some seek the shade of the few trees around the compound, while others endure the heat of the cramped classrooms. A mother nurses her 16-day old baby outside their makeshift room put up with tarpaulins and steel sheets. Her baby is named Lady Sagira, taken from ‘giyera’ the local word for war. Lady Sagira will forever carry this identity – born during war.
The family reechoed what several of the evacuees have already said in the days following their exodus from Marawi. They had thought that the gunfight was going to last for three days – a week, at most. So they panicked when bombs started blasting their communities.
“Yung pinaghirapan ng matagal na panahon, masusunog lang ng ganun kabilis (What we have worked for over the years went up in flames that fast),” said one evacuee during a group discussion facilitated by the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines – Northern Mindanao Region. “Pinasabog na ni Duterte. Hindi ko alam kung bakit. Sino ba ang sisisihin? Ang ISIS? Si Duterte? Ang sarili natin? Hindi ko na alam. (Duterte bombed it. I do not know why. Who are we to blame? The ISIS? Duterte? Ourselves? I do not know anymore.)”
Amidst the boasted success of martial law in containing the Marawi crisis, evacuees start feeling like sacrificial lambs. With the government agencies, Civil Society organizations, and investors coming together to discuss the rebuilding of Marawi, the displaced residents are left in limbo.
“We do not know if there is anything left of our homes,” said another evacuee. “And if indeed a structure is still standing, what about our looted possessions? Who will we hold accountable?”
Beyond humanitarian aid
Even beyond their expressed need for humanitarian aid, what they want now more than ever is justice. They want to know why their communities were bombed, ransacked, their families forced to scatter in several evacuation centers.
“And this during the holy month of Ramadan,” said Aida Ibrahim, spokesperson of Kalinaw Mindanao. Herself a Maranao, she knew the stories of difficulties the religious had to go through during martial law. “The government says there were no human rights violations done. But even without going into the details of the deaths of civilians, of possible missing persons – at this point difficult to determine because of the situation of the evacuees – what they had been doing had been of utmost disrespect for our religion.
“When they occupied the masjids in Marawi City, when they restricted the movement of my fellow Maranaos who are expected to pray in mosques both in the morning and at night, when they buried the bodies of civilians without consideration for our burial customs, they have violated our very identity as followers of Islam. These also showed how little value they have for us, and this is now the sentiment of the evacuees who feel like they had been forced to sacrifice for an ulterior motive of the government.”
Unable to access external aid
Meanwhile, a group of evacuees who sought sanctuary in the community of Sultan Macasalong Sarip in Kiwalan is unable to access external aid. The community, which can only be accessed through the company La Farge, cannot freely accept visitors. The small pathway around the company’s walled compound is also monitored by the company’s guards who require the community’s visitors to log in and get their photos taken for the record of the company.
“Sultan Sarip had invited us for their Eidl Fitr,” said Ailene Villarosa, advocacy coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines – Northern Mindanao Region. “Sultan has been our partner for a long time already, after we worked together in the rehabilitation of several communities in Iligan after Typhoon Sendong.”
The company which has long been trying to force Sultan Sarip and his family out of the land has used the imposition of martial law to tighten its hold on the area. “Demanding to take the photo of visitors is not a simple protocol,” said Ms. Villarosa. “Even photographers are obliged to get permission from their subjects with clear statement of their objectives for taking the photos. And yet here, they are forcing everyone to go on file in the company which in the first place should not be controlling the community.”
Another volunteer who also tried to join the celebrations was also stopped by the guards and was even accused of being a member of the Maute clan.
Spokesperson, Kalinaw Mindanao-NMR
Mobile number 0935-251-0619
Advocacy Program Coordinator, RMP-NMR
Mobile number 0955-601-6942
Photo above: Displaced women in sanctuary at the Al Nur Islamie madrasah in Ceanuri, Tomas Cabili, Iligan City