The Maranaos from Marawi have brought to the capitol their stories of suffering and their demand for justice.
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Mohaimen Hadjali Disoma, 29, a Maranao evacuee from besieged Marawi City, restrains a storm beneath a calm face as he narrates his mother’s recent demise at their evacuation center in Saguiaran, Lanao del Sur.
Disoma’s mother, Hadji Aliah, 52, succumbed to a prolonged illness which began as soon as they were forced out of their home in Bangolo village, Marawi city, when fighting broke out between a local terrorist group and government troops.
“Naisip ko na parang gusto ko nang tumalon ng barko (I thought about jumping off the ship),” Hadjali told Bulatlat, as he recalls that he and his brother learned of her death on Aug. 26, while on a ship headed to Masbate.
Disoma is one of the delegates of Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya, the protest caravan of national minorities that arrived here today, Aug. 31.
Maranao evacuees from Marawi joined the Lumad and Moros who travelled all the way from Mindanao, across Visayas and Luzon, to have their voices heard in the capitol: their stories of loss of homes, properties and lives in the Marawi siege, and of worsening suffering under President Duterte’s martial law in Mindanao.
Disoma attributes his mother’s failure to recover to the harsh condition in the evacuation center, a covered court. He even blames the expired canned sardines and low-grade rice which they received as relief goods, which they suspect were switched by corrupt officials who pocketed the quality relief packs sent for them by the national government.
He laments that he and his brother were not able to pay the last respects for their mother. In spite his grief, Hadjali is resolved to participate in the Lakbayan, which brings not only their stories of suffering, but also their call for justice, for the deaths and destruction brought by the ongoing military operations in Marawi.
The 2,500-strong Lakbayan will be encamped at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, and will stage a series of cultural protests, public discussion and mass actions in the next three weeks. They will be in the capitol from Aug. 31 up to Sept. 21, when a big mobilization is set to commemorate Marcos’s Martial law, as well as Duterte’s.
“We came here to assert our rights,” said Sittie Ramah Asim, spokesperson of Tindeg Ranao, addressing the crowd at the Lakbayan program in Mendiola.
Tindeg Ranao is an organization formed by Maranao evacuees of Marawi. Fifty-two of their members were among the 187 Moro delegates of Lakbayan.
She said her group calls on Duterte to stop the bombing in Marawi, and to lift martial law in Mindanao.
Congress voted to extend the two-month martial law in the island up to end of the year, supposedly to protect rehabilitation efforts after the siege in Marawi ends. The Armed Forces of the Philippines has announced weeks ago that the battle for Marawi will be ending soon as the terrorist forces have dwindled to 60 at most.
Asim chided Duterte for claiming he has Maranao blood, but ending up razing the Islamic City of Marawi, the home of the Maranaos and the Muslim capital of the country.
“We want to get back to our homes…to our own places in Marawi, because that is where we were born, and that is where our resources are,” Asim said. She said that any government housing project for evacuees should be in Marawi, not in a government-imposed relocation site outside Marawi.
Young student wishes to go back to school
Hafsah Salahodin, 18, should have been an incoming grade 11 student at the Jamiatu Muslim Mindanao. The same school began classes in July, but in a new branch in the next province, Lanao del Norte, which is far from the Saguiaran evacuation center where she stays.
Although her own home in Matampay village remains standing, she laments that the government operations have destroyed most of the city.
“The government did more harm than the Maute,” she said. She bewailed the destruction by the aerial strikes and artillery bombardment by government, and echoed calls to stop the bombing in Marawi.
“Maranao kami…Muslim kami, hindi kami terorista (We are Maranaos…Muslims, we are not terrorists),” she said.
A number of Tindeg Ranao’s members have lost family members in the Marawi siege.
Motalib Sarip Ismael, 19, said he joined Lakbayan to ask the public to help find his missing brother and his family.
Asgar Ismael, his wife and three small children were among the many missing residents of Marawi who were trapped amid the siege and remain unaccounted for.
Losing everything, including a scheduled wedding
Arky Mohammad Ali Rominimbang, 25, still carries the key to his motorcycle, hanging from a red rubber spring. It now only serves as a token of the loss they have suffered when the fighting broke out in Marawi City on May 23.
“Susi lang nadala ko (This key was all I had brought),” Arky told Bulatlat. His family lost a total of three motorcycles, the others owned by his siblings.
Arky, who owns a cellphone store in Marawi, joined Lakbayan with his widowed mother, Maimona Rominimbang, 48, a food vendor. They used to live near the Marawi public market, in Banda Raingud Padian Reclamation Area.
Maimona told Bulatlat that although the fighting started on May 23, they did not evacuate until three days later, May 26, when the gunmen started shooting it out in the market. Her neighbours hastened to get out before the soldiers arrive.
“Wala kaming nadalang kahit ano,” she said, as they only brought the shirts on their backs. But it was mainly because they expected the fighting to be over in one to three days. They were preparing for Ramadan, and she had spent all her money on materials for products she will sell during the period.
After a few days, they realized that the military operations will be prolonged, and they decided to retrieve their motorcycles and other belongings. But soldiers stopped them from going back to their home.
Maimona said she regretted not having brought out anything out of her house, which she lamented is full of furniture and appliance she had saved up for since her husband died two years ago. From selling food, she was able to save up enough to give her three children start-up capital for their own small businesses. Her daughter owns a grocery, while her other son makes dentures.
“I have three refrigerators, two flat screen TV, all kinds of small appliances,” she lamented in Filipino.
She fears that her house and the properties of her children have been razed to the ground, based on photos of the city center that she saw on social media.
The destruction of their properties and home has jeopardized Arky’s plan to wed his girlfriend of almost two years. He and Maimona were all set to pay a visit to his girlfriend’s family for a pamanhikan, the Filipino tradition of preparing for marriage. This is now indefinitely postponed.
“Wala na, wala nang panghanda (No more, nothing’s left for a feast),” Arky shook his head.
Amid her family’s losses and the uncertainty of returning to Marawi, Maimona found strength as she joined other evacuees in Lakbayan.
“Masaya ako nakasama ako sa Lakbayan (I am happy to have joined Lakbayan),” she told Bulatlat. It was her first time to come to Manila. Together with other members of Tindeg Ranao, their call to return to Marawi resonates louder.
She said government should allow them to return to their homes, and residential lots; any rebuilding of their houses should be in their original lots. She said government should also help them restart their businesses. She said Tindeg Ranao’s demands are for the benefit of all Marawi residents.