The house that saved Christians in Marawi
The house is where dozens of Christians were hidden from the local terrorist groups, protected by their Muslim employers. It was one of Rappler's most memorable stories during the siege.
Text by Carmela Fonbuena
Photos by Bobby Lagsa
The house that saved Christians in Marawi
LANAO DEL SUR, Philippines – It has 7 rooms, a living room, a kitchen, and a veranda that gives a postcard perfect view of the Muslim city of Marawi and the fabled Lake Lanao.
"It has a perfect view of the sunset. And at night, it's like Antipolo here. The view is beautiful because the lights shine bright in the horizon," AK Macabalang Alonto, 23, a cousin of the house owners, told Rappler as he toured us around the house recently.
The two-story house of the Alonto-Tamano family in Barangay Moncado Colony is where the young members of one of Lanao de Sur's most influential clans used to hang out a lot. Cousins returned together on April 12 for a temporary visit before the entire former battle area is closed for rehabilitation.
"Iba na ang buhay namin sa Iligan. Siguro kung hindi ito nangyari, 'yung routine namin after office, lahat kami nagkikita magpipinsan kuwento-kuwentuhan. Parang nakaka-miss 'yung mga ganoon," said Urduja Alonto Tamano, among the owners of the house.
(Our lives have changed in Iligan. If the war didn't happen, we would still go through our usual routine, where we all would hang out here after office hours just chatting. I miss that.)
Her late parents worked abroad to build the house. It was still unfinished when they died, so it was the children who completed construction of the house in 2012.
Aside from the view that the house offered, the young members of the clan liked it that no adults were present to supervise them.
"Kapag may event ang family from time to time, dito kami nagpaplano. Dito kami kumakain. Every Ramadan, dito ako kumakain. Hindi sa bahay namin. Minsan nagseselos nanay ko eh. Sabi niya, 'Doon ka na kumakain ah. Hindi ka na dito kumakain,'" said AK, a constant house guest.
(This is where we planned family activities. This is where we used to eat. This is where I would celebrate Ramadan, not in our home. Sometimes my own mother would get jealous. She said once, "You always eat there. You don't come home to eat.")
Rappler joined the family in their return to the house to recall a story that inspired hope during the siege, one our most memorable reports then.
It is here where 74 people – 44 of them Christians – hid for days, protected by traditional Muslim leader Norodin Alonto Lucman and other members of the family. He was a former ARMM vice governor.
Memories of the war
Urduja, like most in Marawi, thought another clan war erupted when she heard the first shots on May 23, 2017. (READ: Where the Marawi war began: The safe house in Basak Malutlut)
"After an hour, hindi pa rin nawawala ang barilan. Bumaba ang kapatid ko. ISIS versus mga sundalo pala. Sabi ko, 'Ay hindi. Three days lang, matatapos na ito.' Hindi ko talaga ini-expect na sobrang tagal," she said.
(After an hour, the exchange of gunfire didn't stop. My brother went down the barangay to ask. It was ISIS versus the soldiers, it turned out. I remember saying then, "Ah, no. This will only last for 3 days." I didn't really expect the war to last so long.)
Most of the clan evacuated to their ancestral house in Barangay Banggolo, but the bombing runs appeared to be concentrated there. They decided to walk out of the battle area, but they couldn't bring with them their Christian household helpers.
"Dito namin iniwan 'yung mga kasambahay namin kasi hindi namin sila ma-smuggle. Nagpaiwan 'yung tito ko na si Norodin Alonto Lucman. Siya nag-take care sa kanila," said Timo Alonto Tamano, brother of Urduja.
(We left our household helpers here because we couldn't smuggle them out. My uncle, Norodin Alonto Lucman, stayed with them.)
This was when Lucman and a few family members decided to stay inside the battle area with them. He was himself trapped in his house nearby, along with his own Christian employees.
On the first week of the war, they moved to the Alonto-Tamano house. "I had to move because my house was becoming a target of snipers," Lucman said.
3-km trek out of the battle area
Lucman spoke of how the terrorists knocked on the house to offer to escort him and his family out of the battle area. But he was committed to protect the Christians under his care.
He was offered food, too, but he refused even when they were already running out of supply. He didn't want them delivering the food inside the house and discover the Christians they were hiding.
"Noong time na 'yun, Ramadan, kaya kaka-grocery lang namin noon," said Timo. "Noong maubos na, mayroon namang mga tanim-tanim na mga papaya. 'Yun ang kinain nila."
(We were preparing for Ramadan at the time, so we had fresh groceries. When that ran out, there were plants around the house, like papaya. That's what they ate.)
Rescuers attemped to save them several times, but to no avail. When the bombing runs were getting too near, Lucman decided to risk marching out with all of them.
The Christian women wore hijab and the Muslims among them recited prayers as they marched through a path that the military designed for them so they could avoid areas occupied by the terrorists.
Other families joined the march out of the battle area. "Other Muslims and Christians joined the 3-kilometer trek. In all, 154 civilians were saved. There were 61 Christians in all," Lucman said.
The enemies they did meet on the way were either fooled that they were all Muslims or were respectful of Lucman.
"There is one sad story. Eleven Christian workers tried to join me from Lilod, but they were intercepted by ISIS militants," Lucman said. He believes they were executed.
The war forced the family to relocate to Iligan City, an hour away by car, where the clan members no longer live close to each other.
Back in Marawi, they found that the house was vandalized. There were two big sniper holes in one room, and most of their possessions were looted or destroyed.
But the house survived the war and it stands tall among neighboring buildings raked with bullets. Others weren't as lucky. (READ: Painful homecoming for Marawi evacuees)
Lucman's own house was razed to the ground and the ancestral house they first evacuated to was bombed. (LOOK: Photos show Marawi ancestral home before and after clashes)
They were able to gather their most important possessions when they evacuated on the first week of the war. Timo is also happy to find the family's narra table intact, although he laments the loss of a memorable caricature photo of his parents.
Urduja tried to look for her and her daughter's passports, but they were gone. She's happy to find her favorite pair of gold shoes.
Urduja said the family will rebuild the house. But like many of the residents inside the battle area, they face the uncertaintly of not knowing when they will be allowed to return home for good. (READ: Q and A: Marawi rehab chief seeks to ease fears of land grabbing)
"Mag-iipon kaming magkakapatid. Hindi man kagaya ng dati, at least, may bahay pa rin si Mommy at Daddy. Nagpapasalamat kami at buo pa naman siya," she said.
(I and my siblings will save up. We may not be able to restore it to its old grandeur, but at least Mommy and Daddy will still have a house. We're thankful it's still intact.) – Rappler.com