Trapped in Marawi, Muslims shield Christians from terrorists

Bobby Lagsa
Trapped in Marawi, Muslims shield Christians from terrorists
Dozens of Christian civilians trapped in Marawi City survived 11 days, thanks to the protection by Muslims

LANAO DEL NORTE, Philippines – Government troops and the rescue ream of the Provincial Crisis Management Center on Saturday, June 3, rescued 163 civilians trapped in Marawi City for 11 days, braving the odds and surviving harrowing experiences inside a conflict area.

Those who were rescued included Christian residents and workers who were protected by Maranao residents, as the extremist Maute Group tried to single out and remove the Christians from the Maranaos.

At the house of former ARMM Deputy Governor Norodin Alonto Lucman, 71 residents took refuge under his care and protection. Almost half of them were Christians, including 13 Smart Communications contractual maintenance workers, 33 Dansalan Junior College teachers, women, and children – the youngest, just 2 months old.

In another house, a Christian woman married to a Maranao also holed up with other Christians, including children who are having their vacation. With them is a mechanic with his family.

They were among those rescued on Saturday. One man has a gunshot wound on his leg. They said that he got shot on the day the fighting started.

Jayare Libanta, from El Salvador, Misamis Oriental, said that he and 12 others were working on a communications tower when the fighting started. “We hide in the compound first, then we tried to move to another house by climbing over the wall. When we saw that there are other people in the big house, we took shelter there,” Libanta said.

That house is owned by Lucman, a prominent and respected figure in ARMM.

Libanta said that many times, the extremists would come over the gate of the house and Lucman would talk to them. “They did not enter the house, they respected him,” Libanta said.

Lucman, during a press conference, said that the extremists came over to his house, asking for weapons and ammunitions, but he said that he has none.

Libanta said that women and children hid in the basement and ground floor.

For 11 days, all of them were protected and cared for by Lucman.

PROTECTOR. Former ARMM Deputy Governor Norodin Alonto Lucman is escorted by a soldier and a rescue worker. Lucmans's house became a refuge for both Muslims and Christians for 11 days during the Marawi siege. Photo by Bobby Lagsa/Rappler

At first, food were served, and when the food ran out, they had to ration the food. First to get food were the children, then the women; the men would have it last.

“The first 4 days, we have food, then it started to become really difficult, but we need to survive,” Libanta said.

The survivors are also thankful for the rain for they have water for drinking and for keeping the toilet clean.

Lucman said that what they all went through was quite an ordeal. “It was quite an ordeal that I have to take responsibility for the lives of Muslims and Christians who are in my hands… I’m sure the family shares this,” Lucman said in a press conference.

Jethro Cardon, a 12-year old child, came to Marawi City to spend his summer vacation here. Marawi is known for its cool climate and foggy afternoons and the serene view of Lake Lanao.

It was his first time to visit the place; he lives in Isulan, Sultan Kudarat. He is visiting his auntie, a Christian who married a Maranao man.

In his aunt’s place, just two blocks away from Lucman’s, they all holed up, waiting for rescue.

In an adjacent house is the family of Richard Nietes. Nietes’s family is from Iligan and he works in Marawi as a mechanic. His family was enjoying the afternoon when the attack happened.

His son Gerard, a grade 6 student, was playing with Jethro when the attack happened.

The Nietes were protected by Jethro’s uncle, a Maranao.

Together, the two families stayed together throughout the ordeal, helping each other and sharing whatever provisions that was left.

YOUNG SURVIVORS. Gerard Nietes and Jethro Cardon never left each other since the conflict in Marawi started. The two boys were just on vacation to spend their summer vacation in the city. Photo by Bobby Lagsa/Rappler

From the 2nd floor of the house, they saw what was happening outside. The extremists came over once and asked if there are Christians in the house. They left but never strayed too far from the house.

The children saw the extremists – dressed in black and carrying heavy weapons.

When Rappler asked Jethro if he was scared, he said “no”, but his eyes betrayed him. He held back his tears, staying strong even under immense fear; his hands, clutching tight the candies given to them by soldiers, were trembling.

Gerard was looking over him; he, too, was holding his breath as they sat together, waiting for their turn to be processed by the police.

Gerard too was silent, just smiling when asked; he only said he wanted to go back to school.

For Libanta and 12 of his companion, it is another lease of life. When asked if they will ever come back to Marawi, they said yes. “We will come back. We work here. We need to maintain the towers,” they said.

For Lucman, the extremist already failed since Day 1, “They never got the support of the people, they failed,” Lucman said.

“We are commited to the protection of Christians in our province. That is the legacy of our departed elders to instill in our lives in our hearts and minds the need for Muslim-Christian harmony in this country,” Lucman said. –

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