Unseen sufferings of Marawi evacuees

"THESE are small things, but all these matter," said Sittie Rahana Jhan Ganda repeatedly in pointing out life as a war evacuee from Marawi City.

Ganda, division chief for Peacebuilding and Conflict Resolution of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) in Davao Region, is the sole breadwinner for 54 members belonging to seven families who are all living in the garage of a relative's house in Iligan City.

Things like ablution.

Muslims believe that as they pray directly to Allah, they have to face Allah in a state of purity of thoughts and body. This entails washing of arms and feet before saying their prayers five times a day. Now imagine an evacuation center with just one water source or a small house with 54 people.

In tight quarters

At night, they spread their beddings on the garage and by day, they should all wrap these up so the garage can be used as a garage.

"Mainit, humid sa Iligan," she said, unlike Marawi where the climate is cold. It becomes more uncomfortable because their relative's house is designed for just one family to live in, not eight.

"It's really the simple things that we lost," she said, that deprived them of their dignity. Like having a toilet without waiting in a long line. Having 53 (excluding Ganda) share a house with a family means discomfort for everyone.

It was a similar situation for Amenodin Tanog Cali who had to share his Iligan home to 18 other families, all relatives.

"Siksikan. Ang hirap (It’s very crowded. It’s difficult)," he said, thus describing himself as living the evacuee life as well, because his home approximates the situation of an evacuation center.

An active advocate for the environment and belonging to a civil society organization, Ali notes that consultations on how Marawi will be rebuilt has not yet involved the CSOs, and that causes further apprehension among the people.

Ganda was with NCMF long before the Marawi siege but had to stop working because of some physical frailties in 2015. She was in Marawi when the siege broke out and experienced the uncertainty of being separated from her two children as she was away from home to follow-up the burial papers of a relative when gun fires first rang out.

On her way home, they were blocked by "men in black" so they sought shelter at the Mindanao State University campus instead, where they have a relative.

She returned to NCMF-Davao to earn her family's keep.

She had to seek employment because among the family members, she was the one who was once employed. Like the typical Maranaos, the family was more into trading and some other entrepreneurial livelihood.

No livelihood source

"We had our own houses. Mga kapatid ko earned from yung renta ng mga buildings nila, pwesto sa market, as tricycle driver. Kahit na yung tricycle driver wala nang hanapbuhay," she said. As they had to leave Marawi, the very source of their livelihood is gone and it is up to her to provide for all.

"Walang binibigay na trabaho, walang livelihood programs. Scarce na ang relief, hindi na masyado dumarating. May food assistance but the people want something they can earn," she said. It's the dignity of earning for one's keep, and the absence of this is putting a major strain on the mental and psycho-social health of the evacuees.

In an earlier interview with another Marawi evacuee, Jardin Naga Samad, he said he had to do what was unthinkable for Maranao men -- to weave.

He had to endure the ridicule of relatives and friends because weaving for the tradition-bound and patriarchal society of Maranaos is the work of women.

"They even told me, why are you weaving, you are degrading yourself!" Samad said in Tagalog. "I told them, it's more degrading if you cannot feed your family."

Asked what they needed in their evacuation center, he only asked for space so they can continue weaving. It is impossible to weave in tight quarters.

Ganda could only shake her head in disbelief when told about this. For a Maranao man to weave is unthinkable, she said. It just isn't done.

But for Samad, the opportunity was there. A Filipino-American fashion designer based in California, Anthony Legarda, was buying all the high-quality langkit they can produce, he cannot let his wife do the weaving all by herself when he has no work.

Longing for the President

In Ganda's family of 54, including herself, four are senior citizens, two were sick and have just been discharged from the hospital when the siege broke out, and one has maintenance medicines.

Thus, she said, the evacuees cannot be blamed when they become restive amid the visits made by President Rodrigo R. Duterte to the soldiers in Marawi, the sixth of which was done just last October 2, 2017.

"Bigyan sana ng pansin ang totoong biktima, yung mga bakwit na tulad ko," she said, pointing to the importance given to the troops in Marawi.

When SunStar Davao asked during the fellowship with the Davao media last September 22, 2017 why he has not visited the evacuees since after the first and last visit in an evacuation center in Iligan City during which he led the distribution of aid to some of the families on June 20, 2017, almost a month after the siege broke out, Duterte was quick to reply: "Mahirap 'yan, hindi papayag ang PSG (Presidential Security Group)."

He explained that to prepare for his visit, the PSG will require that the evacuation center be inspected and kept clear two days before, during which the evacuees will not be allowed to come and go. That is because of the nature of the Marawi siege. It's not just any evacuation situation, it's all about terrorism.

In time, the President said.

More simple things

One other simple thing that well-intentioned government agencies have caused evacuees more suffering was the Department of Interior and Local Government's requirement for evacuees to get their certifications from their barangay official. While that would have been easy had they been in Marawi, comfortable in their homes, living in evacuation centers mean you are not in close proximity to your barangay officials. Chances are, many do not even know where these barangay officials have sought shelter in. Woe to barangay residents whose officials have sought refuge in far places like Davao City.

"We had to bring the papers of the elders kasi hindi naman pwedeng isama mo sila maghagilap ng mga barangay official ninyo," she said. It took them three weeks to comply with this requirement.

At the DILG office in Iligan, chaos broke out because they were told the clearance they worked for three weeks to get was no longer needed and another requirement is being asked of them.

"These are simple things, but they don't realize the sacrifices we took just to comply with what they required," she said.

In the meantime, people are suffering.

The trauma and depression

The thought that they no longer have anything to go back to is taking its toll on heads of families, but very few are admitting that they are suffering depression and other psycho-social "dis-ease."

"Kasi nga, hindi tanggap yang mga ganyan, ang nasa isip 'mental' agad, kaya walang umaamin," Ganda said.

Her work at NCMF now is focused on addressing the psycho-social trauma of her people because the stress and insecurity of what the future holds is taking its toll on the mental health of the Maranaos.

Especially because, in this lone Islamic City in the Philippines that has long existed in virtual isolation from the outside world, majority do not own a title to their land. The reason?

Proclamation No. 453 signed in 1953 by President Elpidoi Quirino declaring 6,667 hectares of Dansalan in Mindanao (now Marawi City and immediate environs) as a military reservation. Marawi City has a total land area of 8,755 hectares, meaning, three-fourth of the land area has been withdrawn "from sale or settlement and reserve for military purposes".

But, according to the description given in the Proclamation, while the bulk of the 6,667 hectares are in Marawi City, it also covers parts of Marantao, Piagapo, and Saguiran towns; as well as a portion of Lake Lanao.

Government has assured it will not claim the area as a military reservation, but people know they have no hold over what they used to occupy and it needs a legislative action to repeal that law.

This on top of everything they have lost, they have virtually lost their whole lives, except that... they are still alive to see the ruins.


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