By Carolyn O. Arguillas
and Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism .
(Second of five parts)
At the time, Maranaws leader Aga Khan Sharief asked the military and the mayor for two hours to talk with the rebel leaders and convince them to leave. “Usapang Maranaws” was how he later described what had taken place. The situation ended peacefully.
On the night of May 23 last year (the start of the siege) and early the next morning, concerned Maranaws leaders, among them Sharief, had made attempts to dialogue with the Maute brothers — their fellow Maranaws — to spare Marawi. The Maranaws leaders who managed to contact the Mautes would later recount that they had immediately informed local government officials about the result of their talks. But, they said, the officials claimed that their hands were tied as the military was already in charge. “Martial law” was the reason given.
Those who met with the Mautes also urged them to release Fr. Teresito ‘Chito’ Soganub, Vicar General of the Catholic Prelature of Marawi, who was among those grabbed by the Maute Group as hostages. According to Sharief, a businessman invoking the Maranaws’ maratabat (personal esteem or honor) even offered to shell out money, if ransom was demanded, to avoid the shame the hostage-taking of a Catholic priest would cause the Maranaws.
The armed men in black did indeed have demands, which they ordered Soganub to relay by phone to Marawi Bishop Edwin de la Pena on the evening of May 23: no air strike and the withdrawal of military forces in Marawi.
Forced into diaspora
It wasn’t just the Maute Group who didn’t want air strikes, however. Local government officials, residents, and civil-society groups made similar appeals to the authorities.. The Ranao Rescue Team also urged the President to order a “half day of no fighting” for a humanitarian corridor that would allow the safe passage of thousands of trapped civilians out of the battlegrounds.
A six-hour window on June 3, negotiated with the Mautes by the Meranaws in the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities of the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels, allowed for the safe passage of 182 trapped civilians. On the whole, however, the appeals went unheeded, and air strikes were launched.
Marawi residents were forced into a diaspora, fleeing to neighboring as well as faraway towns and cities. In all, some 77,000 families were displaced from Marawi City and nearby areas, according to records of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
Residents in 20 of the city’s 96 barangays were able to stay put as they were quite far from the war zone. But those in Marawi’s 76 other villages had to leave, especially in the 24 located in what would be known as Ground Zero, the 250-hectare main battle area between the warring forces, now referred to as the city’s “Most Affected Area.”
That war would befall Marawi had been unthinkable. Until that fateful day in May last year, the Meranaws had been considered the luckiest among the Moro ethnic groups, having been spared for several decades from suffering a cycle of mass evacuations that had been endured by the residents of Maguindanao, Basilan, and Sulu. (To be continued)