PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte has lived up to his being the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and has been rallying on the troops fighting in Marawi City against terrorists. In fact, last Thursday, September 21, 2017, he visited the troops for the fifth time.
That is the reason why soldiers are in high morale like never before.
On the sidelines, however, the internally displaced persons (IDPs) or "bakwits" can only pray that the President will look their way. All the coverage about the President's visit to his troops deepens the longing for that glance, for that visit, for that hello.
This is the common thread I derived from the few Maranao IDPs I have talked to in the past months. I stress on few, because I have been able to talk to only five. That's 0.001 percent of the total IDPs from the beleaguered city and surrounding areas who had to live in evacuation centers and cram into already cramped homes of relatives outside Marawi City.
Imagine yourself, a working class family with a low to medium-density housing unit... suddenly made to welcome maybe 50 relatives, or even just 20, who has been living with you since May 23. What we call a subdivision house usually has a maximum of two toilet and bathrooms. Usually a common one and one in the master's bedroom or a common one near the bedrooms and a common one near the kitchen. Most of the time, however, there is only one common bathroom. After all, it's just for one family.
Or, imagine yourself, a businessman with a trading business in Marawi. There has never been any need to beg nor ask from kin and friends. Now, with nothing but clothes given to you.
Imagine yourself living in such condition now pinning your last hope on government.
True, government regularly gives out food assistance, but the water for ablution (majority of the IDPs are Muslims as Marawi is the only Islamic City in the Philippines), the toilets to answer nature's call, the privacy of one's home, and yes the ability of being able to provide yourself are not there. These are the simple things that deprive the self of dignity.
Like the father that Duterte professes to be, the IDPs are longing for his presence. Being the father and the Lolo is among the strong points of the President. He has shared his presence to people in their deepest grief and need. But he's only been with the IDPs in Marawi and surrounding areas only once early on in the siege, and that is where the desperation is coming from.
Sometimes, as the President should know very well, all it takes is his presence and comforting words to give them strength to carry on.
In my talk with a male IDP who has taken up weaving to provide for his family, he and his wife said weaving for Maranao men is taboo. It is a job exclusively for women. But with no other means to provide, and with the opportunity to weave Maranao langkit to fulfill an order or a designer, he has decided to help his wife and use his greater brawn and stamina to hasten the job and be able to say he provided for his family. I felt the pain when the man told me that, but I only realized the extent of what he had to sacrifice when I saw the look of shock and then distaste on the face of a Maranao woman I talked to, two months later, when I mentioned to her about this man who has taken up weaving in desperation.
These are things we don't know and can never fully comprehend. Thus, we will never be able to understand the longing in every Maranao's heart to return home, to get a better grasp of the future, and in the meantime, to see their President in person to draw some strength from.
Here's to hoping that the President will realize soon that he, too, is needed to boost the morale of the people, and not just the troops, because after all this is over, they have their whole lives to rebuild; all half a million of them.
Published in the SunStar Davao newspaper on September 23, 2017.
Latest issues of SunStar Davao also available on your mobile phones, laptops, and tablets. Subscribe to our digital editions at epaper.sunstar.com.ph and get a free seven-day trial.