By H. Marcos Mordeno
THE siege of Marawi City staged by Islamic State-inspired militants led by the Maute brothers and Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon may already be over, but more stories of anguish and hardships suffered by civilians are just beginning to unfold.
On Saturday, Khuzaimah Maranda, team leader of Teach Peace Build Peace Movement Lanao Area, told a forum on “Reporting Marawi, Reporting Violent Extremism” snapshots of the plight of Maranao children whose families spent the first few days of the conflict in their home city.
One of them, a girl from Ground Zero, fled to Marantao town. However, Maranda said, armed men later attacked Marantao, forcing the girl to move to Kalawi town where she sold peanuts to survive.
She said another girl from Ground Zero who sought refuge in Balo-i town in Lanao del Norte had to take care of his ailing father. “Until now the father could not recognize his children.”
One child saw a militant behead a Christian in Barangay Padian, she said.
Aged between 7 and 13 years old, those children “didn’t expect that war can be this brutal,” she said.
“Another child would faint whenever she heard the song ‘Bangon Marawi,’” she said, adding, she and her colleagues witnessed it themselves.
Maranda added that there had been no equitable distribution of relief assistance to the “vulnerable” evacuees, in particular the children, elderly and those with disabilities.
She cited the case of a blind elderly woman from Barangay Raya Madaya who needed diapers but had remained unattended to. The woman is now staying in Piagapo town.
In one instance, a nun had to lend money so that a cadaver from hospital could be buried, she said.
“If this continues, another group will present to us a narrative that will put the government in a bad light,” she said.
“Of course, they will pledge allegiance to those who can give them food. The vulnerable will always be vulnerable, other groups will exploit their emotions and the inaction of government,” she said.
“I would just cry. I don’t know how they will survive if not for the kindhearted people. With the millions of help coming in, how are the IDPs (internally displaced persons) faring?” she added.
Drieza Lininding, of the Moro Consensus Group, said humanitarian groups, with the exception of the Philippine Red Cross, were slow in responding to the evacuation.
He attributed this to what he perceived to be lack of public sympathy due allegedly to President Rodrigo Duterte’s statements blaming the Maranaos for the attack on Marawi.
Leah Tarhata Mehila, focal person on relief operations of the Ranao Rescue Team said it did not help that the mayors were denying that there were evacuees in their towns.
“After two weeks the evacuation centers still had no camp managers with the Department of Social Welfare and Development telling us to wait for the International Organization for Migration because ‘they are in charge’ of this,” she said.
She added that the DSWD required the Municipal Social Welfare and Development officers to certify the list of evacuees before they would release relief assistance.
“That’s a problem because the local government units were not functioning,” a long-time humanitarian worker in Mindanao whose identity can’t be revealed said, referring to the municipal governments of Lanao del Sur.
Residents of towns adjacent to Marawi evacuated too for fear that the fighting might spread to their areas. This explains why the number of evacuees reached some 400,000 individuals even if Marawi only had a population of over 200,000.
“Distribution of relief goods by the DSWD was in chaos, there were no schedules. If there’s a distribution in one barangay, those from other barangays would come,” Leah said.
She further recalled that the price of rice in Lanao del Sur rose to as much as P5,000 from an average of P2,000 per sack. “Even if the evacuees had money, it’s still difficult because supply was scarce.”