WHAT was once rich in culture, beautiful tri-people, and wonderful nature -- now in ruins, covered with bullet holes. We have seen, right before our eyes, how our beloved Mindanao State University (MSU) and Marawi City was attacked with lawless elements and have become a warzone.
Everyone thought May 23, 2017 was just one of the busy days of the MSUans who are beating deadlines, submitting requirements, studying for final exams and getting ready for thesis defense for graduating students like me. I was busy that time revising my thesis that when we heard gunshots, I thought those were just because of Rido or of internal conflicts normally arising in MSU or in the town.
Believe it or not, MSU constituents get used to hearing gunshots, though fear was always the same fear every time. We thought it will suddenly end and everything will be back to the way it is and people will go back doing their own thing. In my four years of studying in MSU, it was always like that.
But then, those gunshots become ceaseless, after hours, there were bombs thrown after another. And we knew right then that it was not a simple conflict anymore. In fear, we locked our doors. Receiving text messages about what was happening terrified me and my roommates more. There we are, locked inside our rooms, but never felt safe at all. While there is war outside, people bombarded us with comments and posts in the social media. We appreciated those who are encouraging us and those who said they will pray for our safety. But while we are all trying to be strong even if we are all terrified, some people were laughing at us saying that our place deserved to be like that, that Muslims are terrorists and they all deserved to die. More than fear, I felt sorry for those people. More than fear, I felt sad, for humanity has gone missing.
The night was dark; the rain poured like tears, still the war outside seemed endless.
We never slept that night, only praying and hoping that as the sun rise in the morning, war would end. But it didn’t…
Days after that, the situation worsened, electricity was down, there was limited water and no more food. And we heard that the terrorists penetrated the campus already so we panicked. Somehow, being stranded on the place you once treasured was complete torture. We wanted to go home but that would mean leaving everything behind. Going home not because of a vacation but because of war, uncertain on what future lies ahead of us because we all know that even after the war, MSU and Marawi will never be the same again.
We waited for the military to rescue us but they were all busy with the operation.
And for the first time in my stay in MSU, I cried so hard in fear for my life and the lives of the others with me. Fear that I may never be able to see my family anymore, that they will not be able to see us wearing our togas and wearing our victorious smile holding our diplomas. I thought about all the efforts and sacrifices all these individuals have put to achieve their dreams; how our parents dreamed of a bright future for us for an affordable tuition fee in MSU despite of poverty; and how this University called itself the “melting pot of the South” and dreamed of becoming a world- class university in year 2020. Those were melted dreams for now, we all hoped for nothing else but to survive at that very moment.
On the third day, we decided to step outside our doors and do everything we can to evacuate on our own, then a Muslim- Christian couple allowed me and my cousin to ride with them to evacuate to Iligan City, I will forever be grateful to them for their kindness. While stranded at Saguiaran (still a place in Marawi City) for eight hours, our Muslim brothers and sisters who are residing there took the initiative to offer free water, pater and some allowed us to use their comfort rooms just as we badly needed it.
Now tell us why these Muslims deserved this chaos? Tell us how these Muslims who helped and saved us in times of need even if they themselves needed saving are branded as terrorists who deserved to die? Some people who knew nothing on how we were able to live in diversity in MSU and Marawi couldn’t even imagine how we, in the middle of war, were able to help each other. And yes, we were able to step outside the warzone safely.
I am safe now here in my home writing my version of the story, with my family overwhelmed with my presence. But my joy was never complete seeing how Marawi City was in complete destruction. It was all over the news and it pained me, reality slapped me that this is real and not a nightmare. Soldiers and civilians lost their lives in the battle and thousands of residents were displaced and were forced to evacuate.
What is sadder is that, two of those who are taken hostage by these lawless elements are good people I knew, still unable to reach their families.
Our land was brutally destroyed, heartlessly conquered… only God knows how this war would end and how we will be able to start from the remains of war when it ends soon. We all long for peace, in times of misery, religion doesn’t even matter. We all needed to stand for each other and set aside our differences. We all have to help one another instead of pulling others down. There is so much loss in war; I hope it does not include our humanity. Let us continue to pray for Marawi!
Lyka Amethyst Casamayor is a graduating student of Mindanao State University-Marawi