The day Marawi died
My fingers tremble as I sit down to write about what I see and hear. But the lives of people are at stake, so I must write.
Every minute someone is dying in Marawi while aerial strikes pound the once listless city. Every moment that passes by, the breathing of one surviving trapped resident in the war ghettos of the endangered downtown in Marawi City thins by the day. (READ: Marawi under siege: It's like 'looking at Aleppo')
A co-volunteer in the Ranao Rescue Team updates us about a trapped resident who has been eating paper cartons for meals. Twenty-three days have gone by and no food is available. Every house and shop is closed, and the once-bustling Islamic City has become a zombie city. (READ: Marawi: Images from a ghost town)
This was a result of the shock of armed confrontation on our national highway on May 23. The story is that radicals were in one religious gathering of males at a big mosque in Basak Malutlut. Security forces were going to take suspects in custody. The Maute Group resisted and the highway became a no-man's land. Many people fled without any bag or clothes.
We, Meranaos, are being blamed for the Marawi crisis that has displaced almost 300,000 and counting. Terrorism in Marawi City is a stranger because radicals usually meet underground. This is the first time they surfaced in the city as a group. I know this because I am part of a security monitoring group that has monitored incidents of violence by the MG. They have done sporadic crimes against Shiites, gays, men in uniform, and suspected intelligence agents. (READ: Filipino millennial joins ISIS in Syria)
We have religiously convened multi-sectoral meetings on combating crime and terrorism with fellow member newscasters speaking against radicalism almost every week. (READ: One with Marawi)
It is Baguio-cool here, the Lake Lanao is majestic. Listening to the call to prayer 5 times a day was magical. All this has changed in one instant.
Marawi is the seat and capital for 39 villages, a future capital of a Bangsamoro too. The Mindanao State University main campus is here with a majority Christian student population and was declared a peace zone, an effort we pushed while at the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in 2012. Muslims and Christians here live side by side.
It is Baguio-cool here, the Lake Lanao is majestic. Listening to the call to prayer 5 times a day was magical. Robust interfaith movements and peace activities are hosted here. There was conscious effort to invest in understanding violence.
So please do not tell us we did not do anything. Dear President, please do not blame the Meranaos.
We would not even have wanted to dignify his usually sarcastic statements but this is a time of suffering and call for oneness as a nation. Instead, we would have wanted he visit evacuation centers and see the mothers and children sleeping on floors and elderly survivors who continued fasting despite the odds. (READ: Duterte cancels Marawi visit due to 'foul weather')
We are a society that has survived 400 years and battled colonizers from America and Japan and asserted our unique identity in the 1935 Dansalan Declaration.
Despite being vanguard of the peace here, Marawi saw a horrific martial law take away 150,000 lives in the 1970s in Mindanao – a nightmare of destruction.
Imagine if in Manila if we conducted air strikes.
How did the conflict really start on May 23? What is the number of soldiers serving and how many are the enemies? Does ground command follow high command on peace? (READ: PH honors 'heroes of Marawi' with noontime salute)
Was there forced evacuation? What is the policy for civilian protection? How to avoid collateral damage on human lives?
How is the Maute group targeted? What equipment? How did the US Special Forces use forward observers and missile guided rockets during air strikes? (READ: Soldiers killed in military air strike in Marawi)
Just like the Abu Sayyaf that has infested the islands, it is not our choice that radicals have grown here in Marawi City. (READ: Duterte's challenges: Terror, crime and the Abu Sayyaf)
We urge the President to be more circumspect and compassionate about the suffering of fellow Filipinos who are doubly sacrificing as evacuees and fasting faithfuls.
As Commander-in-Chief, he must invest in stronger law enforcement measures, educate people on the rule of law and support the judiciary and ulama in their campaign for justice and Shariah.
We are not in charge of checkpoints. We are not authorities who can, with the use of technology, monitor suspicious actions and the entry of high-powered arms.
We urge he invest in civilian military relations instead of treating this as a movie of who wins and who loses. – Rappler.com
Samira Gutoc lives in Bangon, just a village away from the fighting of May 23. She is a focal person for Ranao Rescue Team that works on facilitating rescue, relief, legal, and medical assistance for Marawi residents.