Bauya: When We Rise

IT’S been forty-two days since the Marawi siege started. Everyone is yearning for this crisis to end. However, there is one question we need to ask as we move towards the recovery and rehabilitation phase: How can we make Marawi better?

In the earlier months of 2016 we heard rumors about an extremist group going around Marawi City. The rumors came from people whose relatives were already indoctrinated by the ideas of the extremist group, ISIS. In fact, there had been sightings of the ISIS flags being raised in some parts of downtown Marawi. Inside the MSU campus, there were flyers posted around bearing threats to Kafirs (unbelievers) and warnings to stop un-Islamic practices. But we kept our silence. In the past, there were militant groups who burned establishments that were considered un-Islamic and accosted Muslims and Non Muslims alike for not wearing a hijab or for not wearing it properly. We thought, just like in the past, this threat will also subside in time. But we were wrong.

Yes, partly we are to be blamed for this. We let it happen under our noses. But the most important question here is why we kept mum about it and why there is a culture of silence among us.

Honestly, we fear for our lives. That is why we just keep quiet. This culture of silence springs from the reign of terror brought by the existing culture of impunity. It is true that most crimes in Marawi remain unresolved and sometimes can even go unreported. If you could recall the case of our colleague, who was killed and was burned inside his house. Justice was not served because there were no eyewitnesses willing to come forward. And who would want to risk his life knowing that the culprits could retaliate?

Yes we fear for our lives because these bad people have guns. No one knows how they were able to obtain them but it is no secret that every household in Marawi has at least one gun for protection in case of a Rido. Just the mere sight of a gun could incite fear and trauma to a person. How much more hearing the sound of it or even worse bear witness to a person being shot dead in front of you. It is not easy. It will never be easy at all.

Speaking of Rido, family feud makes it even more complicated. Any Meranaw is very careful not to meddle in someone else’s business, like crime for instance. It may put not only their family at risk but the whole clan as well. If you add up the closed-family ties, the reign of terror, and the culture of impunity, what do you expect to get?

Added to our existing dilemmas is the knowledge of how ISIS works. Not long ago that we all witnessed their cruelty as they destroyed Syria. We saw how men, women, and children suffered and are still suffering hitherto. We all know what this terrorist group is capable of. It was really hard to be put in our situation but there is no redemption on that. We felt very helpless seeing the city in ruins. But we have to move on. What we can do now is to ensure it will never happen again and think of ways to make Marawi better.

The government should eye on implementing several policies to address this problem. For one, there should be a stricter policy on gun control. In Marawi, people can easily acquire guns illegally. It should be noted that one can spread terror by merely possessing a gun. Therefore, we should have stricter policies and guidelines in gun ownership. This is also a way to instill discipline and to trace whoever violates the laws. While it is impossible to disarm all citizens, gun licensing can be an option.

This policy may anger many people but inasmuch as we want to feel safe individually, it is also important to look at the safety of the community as a whole. There are things that must be compromised in order to make our society safe and peaceful. If citizens are free from the terrors and violence brought by guns, and if we can ensure that justice will be served at all times, culture of silence will end. Citizens will be more vigilant and concerned. If citizens are more concerned, they themselves will safeguard their community against any harm.

To end the culture of silence and culture of impunity, all sectors in the community should cooperate and work together. It is easier said than done but at least we should try harder. This crisis revealed to us our mistakes as a society. Hence, it is also befitting that we shall strive to correct them together as one people. So that when we rise, we will be better.

***

Tom Bauya is the department chairperson of MSU-Marawi’s Communication and Media Studies Department. He, along with other staff, faculty, students, and non-teaching personnel, was initially trapped in the early hours of the fighting between extremists and state security forces. He is now in Iligan City doing volunteer work for other internally-displaced persons like him.

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