Art by Gian Nicdao
You’ve heard the stories. Of classrooms ridden with bullet holes, of children dismissing the sound of explosions the same way you’d ignore the sound of an airplane flying by. For the Maranaos of Marawi, Lanao del Sur, this was the reality from May to October 2017, when armed terrorists launched attacks on the city. The Marawi siege left the lakeside town in ruins, with more than 400,000 residents displaced from their homes.
A warzone is the last place a student, or child should be brought up, and admittedly, it can be difficult for people living in Manila (or anywhere miles away) to grasp just how difficult a situation it really is. This is why we partnered with Teach Peace Build Peace Movement (TPBPM) — an organization that aims to make the youth peace builders through peace education — to gather stories from young people living in conflict areas. Our first installment is a harrowing account of the Marawi Siege, in the words of a graduating student from Mindanao State University.
Walida Azis is a 21-year-old BS Psychology student, and she is also a part of TPBPM’s Lanao Circle. Here, she shares a first-hand account of what went down the night the Marawi siege broke out, and gives us a glimpse of what the situation is like for IDPs (internally displaced persons) two years later.
I was raised in a small barrio, in a community that lives harmoniously. On a typical day, as you walked down the street, everyone you’d meet would smile and greet you “salaam!’ You would see children chasing each other, playing biko, patintero, and Chinese garter. Their parents, meanwhile, would be busy gardening their front yards, raising vegetables and colorful flowers. Among families, a routine bonding activity was to make palapa, a common side dish in Meranao cuisine that most of us can’t do without in our every meal, even when we were far away from home.
In my community, we treated each other like family. It was normal for us to offer food to our neighbors, especially when we’d make food on special occasions. We watched over their homes when they were away, even taking care of their kids and grandparents left at home.
See, we truly lived in peace. Perhaps the only thing in our community that occasionally marred that peace is the so-called rido, or family feud, a social custom that either strengthens or destroys our families. So accustomed are we to it that the gunshots we hear as a consequence of rido have already become normal for us. We would think “Ah! It’s [just] rido. Better not butt in, because it’s their feud.” We would rather not interfere, because our family wouldn’t want to get involved in it. Instead, we put our faith in Allah and our local Datus to settle clan conflict. Other than that, though, it was a peaceful community. No thieves, murderers, gangs, or rapists.
We Meranaos are also known to be brave and protective of our kin. Mess with one of us, and you would find trouble with our entire clans. Befriend us, and you’d find that we can be the most loving people you’d ever meet. That’s how we lived as Meranaos — in tranquility. It was in May 2017, just a few days before Ramadan, the Holiest Month for us Muslims, when all that changed.