Marawi local shares harrowing war experiences under martial law
(Updated, 2:24 p.m., July 22, 2017) A peace advocate from Marawi City turned emotional as she cited instances of human-rights abuses against the residents of the strife-torn city during a joint session on martial law extension on Saturday.
Asked by Senator Grace Poe to speak, Samira Gutoc-Tomawis, who lives in Bangon, Marawi City, said many evacuees in the city have experienced abuses by the government forces amid the martial law in Mindanao.
Gutoc-Tomawis was an appointee to the Bangsamoro Transition Commission who later resigned following President Rodrigo Duterte’s joke that he would own up to the soldiers even if they commit rape while Mindanao was placed under martial law.
Gutoc cited the case of 20-year-old Abdul Halim, who was suffering from mental disability. She said Halim was “psychologically tortured” by uniformed men after he was forced to admit that he was a member of the Maute terror group.
“On the second week of the crisis, Abdul Halim, a special child or a mental retard, 20 years old, was brought to Lanao rescue team by the mother. The mother claims hinulugan po ng mainit na tubig ang kanyang kamay (his hand was scalded by hot water) after being found in Saduk area of Marawi. He was psychologically interrogated if Maute siya. We have photos, Senator Poe, your honors, on these,” Gutoc said.
Second case, Gutoc said a Maranao, along with 26 men, recalled to her that the government forces tortured them and told them to prepare digging their own grave.
“They were asked to remove their shirt, blindfold themselves, walk blindfolded. Tapos may narinig silang mga baril and sabi ng isang authority: ‘Maghukay na kayo ng inyong libingan (Then they heard firearms and one in authority told them: Start digging your own grave),’” she said.
Fighting back tears, Gutoc urged the lawmakers to consult Marawi residents and evacuees how they feel about the effects of war and martial law.
“Please ask us how do we feel. Please ask us how do we stand up and rise,” she said.
The Maranao advocate then lamented that there are 20 bodies in the city that are yet to be buried, a taboo in Islam culture.
“Twenty bodies, 100 day or almost 60 days not buried… Sa Islam, one day lang po hindi pwedeng lagpas one day bawal sa Islam (In Islam, only one day is given, not one day longer because this is prohibited in Islam)—the highest form of prohibition and taboo. Sorry, Senate President, hindi pwedeng iwan ang katawan (bodies cannot be left behind) but because it’s war, of course it’s national security,” Gutoc said tearfully.
Gutoc also spoke about the struggles of female Marawi residents who were displaced because of the conflict in the city, saying some of them had to leave their houses without enough clothing.
“May isang nakahubad sa evacuation center. In Islam, bawal ang nakahubad. Kaya po kami naka-ganito, naka-cover ang face, bawal makita ang katawan namin, ang suso namin, ang aming panty umalis kami ng bahay namin walang panty na dala (There is one naked in the evacuation center. In Islam, being naked is prohibited. That is why we look like this, we are covered, our face and all over, because we should not expose our body, our breasts, our panty we left our house without bringing one),” she said.
“I am so sorry. I have to speak for 250,000 people in Marawi City and 400,000 Maranaos scattered all over the country,” she said.
Gutoc said Maranaos have also suffered dire conditions in the hospital because most of them are sharing beds in charity wards. She recalled that a female infant died in Iligan hospital. Gutoc said the baby did not receive proper treatment because she was sharing a bed with three women.
“Two women in Pagadian were asked to be taken in by police because they were holding in their baggage a dextrose. Bawal po ba ang dextrose sa isang buntis? Sabi ng faith healer niya dapat may dextrose baka manganak siya (Is dextrose prohibited for a pregnant woman? Her faith healer advised her to bring dextrose because she may give birth anytime). They were taken in a whole day of questioning,” Gutoc said.
After giving an impassioned speech, Poe urged the Department of Social Welfare and Development to intensify its efforts to respect cultural boundaries.
“The ravages of war is really such that we need all different departments to work together to avoid these types of situations. Of course, we don’t want war to continue but we need to contain the immediate threat that we face with,” Poe said.
Gutoc’s story compelled opposition lawmaker Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin to demand from Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea to apologize to Gutoc for being insensitive.
“What we just heard right now from a Maranao… Dapat ang ating Executive Secretary should give us, show us some sensitivity on this aspect. Hindi po puro technicalities o legal yung ating approach dito (our approach here should not just pure technicalities or legal),” Villarin said.
“I think due apologies should be given to (Gutoc)… The sensitivities of the Maranawo culture should be recognized,” he added.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff Eduardo Año responded to Villarin’s demand for an apology, noting that the military is waging war against terrorism and rebellion precisely because it wants to put an end to the “consequences of war.”
“These consequences of war, these are the things we don’t want to happen. Kaya gusto natin i-resolve lahat ito (That is why we need to resolve all of these),” Año said.
“We never intend to harm or violate any human rights. In fact, we are welcoming y complaint, we will conduct appropriate investigation, and apply sanctions to those who commit any violations,” he added.
For his part, Medialdea said Duterte’s martial law decree is the “only martial law where human rights are clearly being followed.”
Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao said Gutoc’s story is only one of several accounts of the plight of thousands of evacuees in Mindanao under martial law.
“It’s very impossible na sabihin na (to tell that) zero violations to human rights,” Casilao said. JPV
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