[OPINION] Through gunshots and fire, I survived

 

May 23, 2017 was supposed to be a special day for our family.

We started the day in high spirits and non-stop congratulatory cheers as my sister Hanna was graduating in high school with honors. She was also an awardee for being one of the top examinees of the Mindanao State University-Marawi (MSU-M) Senior High School Entrance Exam.

We were very proud of her achievements. We wanted the day to be special.

Kaka Janjan and I decided to surprise Hanna with a cake. It was the only gift we could afford for her, and we know it would make her happy. Since Janjan was with Hanna at the Dimaporo Gymnasium inside the MSU campus for the graduation, I was tasked to buy the cake.

It was quite difficult to look for a cake that day as the entire city was busy. I went to different cakeshops downtown before finally getting one at Crème Top. The shop manager was too kind that he even offered me a part-time job after I said I was desperately looking for one. I left the shop smiling from ear to ear. I was very excited for Hanna to see our simple graduation gift.

Despite the heavy traffic, I arrived right in time for the celebration at my aunt’s house just outside the MSU-Marawi campus. Everything was ready: a backdrop was installed, food and drinks were served, and the guests were ready.

Hanna arrived and immediately got teary-eyed after seeing everyone. She was very happy. Everyone had a great time after we reunited with some relatives we haven’t met for a long time. In Maranao culture, kanduri (thanksgiving) is a huge thing and an occasion for family reunions. After we ate and had our photos taken, our relatives and friends prepared to return to their homes.

We were tired but had a great time, until we started hearing gunshots from out of nowhere.

We got scared and were concerned for the safety of our visitors. We received threatening messages and warnings to evacuate the city.

But we were also told not to worry, that those messages could be a hoax.

We dismissed the warnings and expected the situation to return to normal, until the gunshots seemed not to end. We were 20 people inside the house, and we could no longer hide our anxiety.

The night came and everyone was feeling uneasy. We prayed, ate and witnessed the bleak night together. I went outside and saw smoke all over the city. It was a terrifying sight.

"How could this happen to the city where I grew up?," I kept asking myself.

We started getting information about what was happening in other parts of the city. We learned about what happened to Padian, the market where I sold cellophane and baskets. It was horrifying to hear that schools, including Dansalan College, and churches were burned. Some people were abducted, others were killed. Our anxiety grew as the night got even darker. (WATCH: Marawi 360: Inside the war zone)

Dreams, nightmare

Hanna and I couldn’t sleep that night. We kept on hearing gushots. To distract ourselves, we had a long talk, something that we didn't often do. Hanna started sharing her dreams, ambitions, and fears with me. I didn’t realize she was such a sweet girl, and for a moment we forgot about what was happening outside our house.

Her beaming hope in the middle of hopelessness made me smile. It seemed like a soothing lullaby that helped me calm myself to sleep.

Sleep was no escape though. The fear was too much to bear that I had a nightmare, where I saw my friends running away. I was running toward them but I couldn’t keep up. I stopped and they stopped and turned back. They stared at me like they didn’t know me. I was shouting for help but we could not move.

I felt a lump in my chest as warm tears fell down my cheeks. I was awoken by Janjan's voice, “Pagnawka!” (Wake up!). “Paninimo tano kon tigi Ante ka papakarani siran,” he said, as he began putting things in our luggage. (Auntie said to pack our things as she is coming for us).

We heard more gunshots and explosions. They got louder that some blasts caused the ground to shake.

Our aunt did not arrive that day to fetch us. We stayed for another two days and continued praying for the firefight to end soon. We had already run out of batteries, candles and food. We used oil lamps, but these couldn't hold much light. Ramadhan was approaching, and there was no food nor water.

The situation had become stressful, yet we could not leave behind our Christian brothers who were with us. We had to stay for another night to wait for the rescue car.

On the day the military launched an air strike, we finally got the chance to leave Marawi City. Our Christian friends left for Iligan City while we headed to Malabang town. We were relieved. (READ: Marawi battle zone: Urban warfare challenges PH military)

It was really a traumatic experience. Had we stayed longer in the city, we could have been bombed. But we survived. I survived. – Rappler.com

This slightly edited piece was first published in "Tadman di ripatan: Memories of Marawi Siege," a collection of stories, poems, and photos written by Mindanao State University-Marawi students and residents about their Marawi siege experience.

Bin Nur A. Magangcong is a 3rd year BS Secondary Education major in English student of Mindanao State University-Marawi.