Bodies sprawled on the street where the clashes began
MARAWI CITY, Philippines – He's not one to run away at the first sound of gunfire. Abdul Moheming is your curious neighbor who likes to know what is going on in his neighborhood.
When the government clashes with local terrorist groups began on Tuesday, May 23, Moheming ran to the battlezone in Basak Malutlut to see what was happening. He was not afraid of the military, the Maute Group whose fighters are Maranaos like him, and apparently of getting caught in the crossfire.
"Tinitingnan namin bakbakan nila sa Markaz, sa unahan dito ng Malutlut. Kaso hindi namin malapitan. Ang mga sundalo sabi hindi puwedeng lumapit sibilyan (We were checking out the clashes in Markaz, at the mouth of Malutlut. But we couldn't go near. The soldiers said it was off-limits to civilians)," Moheming said in a voice that was almost complaining.
He heard everything though. He knew when the two camps exchanged gunfire, when artillery was fired, when choppers were hovering, and when they were dropping bombs.
On Day 5 of the clashes, he had seen and heard enough. Rappler found him in a corner street near the provincial capitol on Saturday, May 27, apparently taking a break after a long walk from his house in Tacu out of Marawi City.
"Sanay ako sa bakbakan. Kaso lang sobra na ito. Sira-sira na bahay doon. Ginamitan ng bomba, malalakas. Hindi na namin kayang pakinggan (I'm used to clashes. But this one is too much. The houses were destroyed. They used bombs. We can't bear to listen to them anymore)," he said.
For the first time in his life, Moheming has turned into a bakwit, among the 80% of Marawi residents who have become evacuees because of the clashes.
Walking out of the clash site, he saw the destruction in areas that the military had yet to reach before he abandoned the place. He spoke about seeing headless bodies sprawled on the streets of Malutlut, the smell of decomposition filling the air.
"'Yung makita 'nyo sa daan, mga ulo at napugutan ng ulo. 'Yung mukha iba na. Kaya 'yun na nangamoy ang daan. Ewan ko sino ang mga 'yun. Christian ang mga 'yun (You will see on the road severed heads and the bodies. The faces look mangled already. It's why the roads smell bad. I don't know who they are. But they are likely Christians)," he said.
These are the civilian hostages killed by the Maute Group, according to a Rappler source. Rappler also overheard cops planning the retrieval of these bodies on Saturday at the provincial capitol.
The military said the Maute Group and a faction of the Abu Sayyaf Group – among the two local terror groups that have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS) – have combined forces to turn Marawi City into a caliphate.
Like ISIS, the Abu Sayyaf and Maute have notorious records of beheading civilians.
"Nakakatakot din 'yun kapag nakikita mo 'yung nakita namin doon na wala nang ulo sa Malutlut. 'Yung unang bakbakan doon (You'll be afraid if you see what we saw, the headless corpses in Malutlut. That's where the clashes began)," Moheming said, adding that he believed, again, that the victims were Christians.
Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon was the target of the military raid. The military did not expect the capablity of the ISIS sympathizers to fight back.
"Noon mga rido lang. Patay-patay lang sa daan. Ngayon nagsobra na ngayon. (Before, it was just rido. They kill each other on the streets. This war is something else; it's too much)," Moheming said.
Moheming fled as troops poured into the city. He said the enemies no longer stood a chance against government forces.
But he's afraid that his own village, Tuca, will turn into a battlezone next because it's the exit point for the fleeing fighters of the Maute Group. – Rappler.com