MANILA, Philippines – From a village in crisis-hit Marawi City, he called for help.
“From the mosque, take the narrow road going to our house. About 100 meters. There are no house numbers, and the road is dark and armed ISIS elements lurk in the distance,” 51-year-old Said Usop told Agos, powered by eBayanihan, in Filipino. His voice on the other line was cracking.
Agos, Rappler’s crowdsourcing platform during disasters and emergencies, has been monitoring the humanitarian situation on the ground since the clashes between the military and the ISIS-inspired members of the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups broke out on Tuesday, May 23. Agos closely monitored and reported about the distressed social media post from the Cebu-based group of young volunteers named Tabang Sibilyan (Help Civilians).
On day two of the crisis, Usop, a driver, desperately looked for ways to immediately leave his village. The military has already called on the residents to evacuate.
“Ang problema doon, Sir, lahat wala; zero. Kahit may pera ka, wala kang mabibilihan, wala kang mapapalitan. Walang lights, walang tubig, no contact. ‘Yung mga tao doon napakahirap, Sir. Naglakas-loob akong umalis doon dahil yung misis ko manganganak. Ayun, putukan doon, putukan sa mga kalsada. Naglakbay kami dahil natakot ako, baka doon manganak yung misis ko,” he later told Rappler in a phone interview.
(The problem we had there was that we feel helpless. There was nothing; zero. Even if you have money, you can’t buy anything. There’s no electricity, no water, no contact. People there are very poor. I had the courage to leave our village because my wife was in labor. We evacuated because I feared my wife might give birth in the middle of heavy fighting.)
Agos reported Usop’s call for help to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), which heads the Response Cluster group of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRRMC).
Due to the urgency of the situation, Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo personally asked Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Ubial’s help to at least assist Usop’s pregnant wife in case she gives birth in Marawi City.
However, Usop’s village was a restricted area, according to local authorities. The military augmented its presence there and responders could not reach the village due to security risks.
Usop thought it would be safer to leave the next day with his wife who was due to give birth, and his 3 young chidren; one with a disability. With a lighter in his pocket and a cellphone in hand, he watched over his family in the dark and waited until sunrise.
On Thursday morning, May 25, Usop and his family set off for Iligan City with 20 other families who swelled to thousands along the way. Most of them walked for almost 3 hours in the rain until they were able to ride a jeepney, Usop said. They arrived in Iligan City at around 2 pm.
His family’s journey to Iligan City was the longest and most most difficult one that they had ever experienced, Usop said.
“Yung sa daan, noong nag-abot kami doon, ‘yung putukan, Sir, masyadong marami, tapos takot ‘yung mga anak ko. Kinakarga ko pa ‘yung panganay na anak ko na special child kasi di makakalakad,” Usop said.
(While on the road, we witnessed heavy gunfire. My children were very scared. I was carrying my eldest, a special child, who couldn’t walk.)
They had to pass through several military checkpoints. At the time, President Rodrigo Duterte has already placed the entire Mindanao under martial law.
“Masyadong mahigpit ang daan, Sir, dahil sa mga checkpoints. Mga bata naranasan nila na lahat ay umiiyak. Walang meryenda at nagugutom. Lahat kami gutom, eh, dahil walang pagkain,” Usop said.
(The roads were heavily guarded by the military. There were many checkpoints. The children were crying because they had no snacks. We were all hungry because we had no food.)
Clashes erupted on Tuesday as the military moved to hunt down Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, who was spotted in Marawi City. Hapilon, who reportedly has direct links to international terrorist group Islamic State (IS or ISIS), joined the Maute Group in Lanao del Sur supposedly as part of a bid to establish an Islamic caliphate in Central Mindanao.
Face-to-face with the Maute Group
Nothing could be more harrowing than encountering an armed group that has associated itself with an international terrorist network, according to Usop.
The Maute group earlier attacked facilities in Marawi City, including a public hospital, holding up to 72 civilians captive. It also looted groceries.
At one point during their 3-hour walk, the Usop family and other evacuees bumped into the Maute Group. They were wearing black headbands printed with the acronym “ISIS,” Usop recalled.
Usop begged to be allowed to proceed, citing his wife, who was about to give birth. The group of less than 10 heavily armed men in their 20s eventually allowed the evacuees to continue their trip.
Born away from the battle ground
On Friday night, May 26, Usop’s wife gave birth to a healthy baby boy in a public hospital in Iligan City. A kind woman in the hospital gave the baby a cloth diaper to wear because the Usop family only managed to bring a plastic bag with blankets.
With DOH’s recommendation, Agos referred the Usop family to the hospital. The office of the governor of Lanao del Sur will shoulder the hospital bill, the chief nurse told Agos. The province will also provide financial assistance to other evacuees who seek medical help.
Usop is thankful that his family is now safe. “Masayang-masaya sa tulong na natanggap. Masaya na walang nagyari sa aking pamilya. Sana malutas ang kaguluhan doon. Paano na ang bayan namin doon?”
(I’m grateful for the help that we received. I’m grateful that nothing happened to my family. I hope the conflict there will be resolved. What will happen to our community there?)
As of Saturday morning, May 25, more than 9,000 families or about 44,000 people have been displaced in Northern Mindanao and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
“Mayroon kaming tutuluyan na mga kamag-anak namin dito sa Iligan City kasi mahirap na kapag nasa ibang lugar kami sa evacuation center dahil mas safe kami sa mga kababayan namin, mga kamag-anak namin na taga dito.”
(We will stay in the home of our relatives in Iligan City. This is better than in evacuation centers. We feel safer with our relatives.)
Like the Usop family, most of the evacuees – at least 8,200 families or 41,000 people – are staying with their relatives or friends in Iligan City and in two towns in Lanao del Sur, according to the DSWD. More than 1,000 families or or about 2,800 people are in 13 evacuation centers. – Rappler.com
If you want to help internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Marawi City or if you have reports about their humanitarian needs like temporary shelter, relief goods, water, and hygiene kits, post them on the Agos map, text to 2929 (SMART and SUN), or tag MovePH on Twitter or Facebook. You may also link up with other organizations that called for donations.