Monday July 23, 2018

Backhoe operator in Marawi mass burial: I silently talk to the dead

MARAWI CITY -- He used to dig canals and work roads around the city, operating the backhoe loader owned by the Provincial Government of Lanao del Sur, for 12 years.

But his assignment in the last four months is different: he has to dig burial holes and cover it with soils where human remains are buried.

He is Jelbin Darantinao, an employee of the provincial government since 2010, as heavy equipment operator though he is a resident of Barangay Suarez, Iligan City, some 30 kilometers away from Marawi where government forces are pursuing against the Isis-inspired militants.

"It's kind of eerie because just imagine you are burying a group of persons you don't know. I am a Christian and I believe that we have soul so I silently talk to them while operating the backhoe loader that 'I am only doing my job, I'm just following orders', please don't scare me," Darantinao said in an interview.

He said he prayed before starting to dig burial holes from the first to the third batch

Forty sets of human bones were buried Thursday morning at Maqbara public cemetery in Barangay Papandayan Caniogan in Marawi City.

This follows after the mass burial of 27 sets of human bones last July 24 and another 27 in September 5. The remains were retrieved by the crisis committee team from the area where government forces continue operations against the Isis-inspired militants for more than two months.

This is the third burial in Marawi but the fourth batch of human remains retrieved from Marawi City since the start of the crisis in May 23.

Last June 15, eleven dead bodies, believed to be civilians killed by the militants were buried in a public cemetery in Barangay Dalipuga, Iligan City.

On that same month, four dead bodies of Maute members, who were killed in an ambush at the boundaries in Pantar and Baloi, Lanao del Norte, were also buried in that same cemetery.

Darantinao operated the backhoe loader in all of these burials.

Danilo Capin, owner of Capin Funeral Homes, said the human bones scheduled to be buried were already examined by forensics and was taken a deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) sample.

“Actually, we have here 41 sets of human bones, all have underwent forensic examinations. But we are holding one set of bones, believed to be of Police Inspector Edwin V. Placido, the deputy station commander of Marawi City Police Station who was killed by the terrorist on the first day of the siege.

“We are also holding another two human remains because they were not examined yet. One was brought to their custody last October 2 and another one was brought last October 3,” he added.

Now that the military said the war is about to end, Darantinao said he also have received office memorandum that he will be one of those who will work in the clearing operations inside the main battle area.

He is willing to do his job and is expecting of seeing human bones around the area saying some of them might be his friends.

He has only one fear - digging explosives that will be left behind.

"I only wish that everything will be totally cleared when the military allowed us to get inside and start our work. To be hit by unexploded bombs is my greatest fear because I have a family waiting for me to come home," Darantinao said as he switch on the engine of the backhoe and start covering the tomb with soils on the third mass burial Thursday morning.