Visiting Marawi kids want Duterte to end war
New sights and the thrill of traveling to Manila pleased the children from Marawi, but the conflict that had forced them to flee their city was never far from their minds during their visit to the country’s capital on Tuesday.
Thirty-five displaced children joined the Tabak Educational Tour to Manila sponsored by the military.
They flew from Laguindingan Airport in Misamis Oriental province for a five-day tour of Manila that would include a visit to Malacañang and a meeting with President Duterte.
End to war, martial law
Several of the children told reporters that they wanted to ask Mr. Duterte to end the war in Marawi and lift martial law in Mindanao.
The children said they wanted to continue their schooling and for the government to provide jobs for their parents.
Fighting between government forces and Islamic State-inspired terrorists who seized parts of Marawi on May 23 has sent more than 400,000 people fleeing the city and surrounding areas.
Six percent of the displaced are in shelters and the rest are staying with relatives and friends in Iligan City and surrounding communities.
The children met with the President in Malacañang in the afternoon, and he promised them that he would return Marawi to its former splendor and would even improve upon it.
“I would do my best to return Marawi to you, more beautiful and free of conflict,” Mr. Duterte told the children.
He also called on them not to allow extremists to enter the city.
The Armed Forces chief of staff, Gen. Eduardo Año, said on Tuesday that the leaders of the terrorists were trapped in a 500-square-meter pocket of the city and that government forces were preparing for a final assault to end the conflict.
The children, aged 7 to 13, were also scheduled to visit Manila Ocean Park, Mall of Asia, the Mind Museum and the Philippine Army headquarters for a “peace building session” that includes peace games and interaction with other children.
Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera said the children, who were living in evacuation centers, were asked to participate in the educational tour so that they could see a peaceful environment and get a positive perspective while learning about another culture.
The tour is part of peace-building and psychosocial support for the children, Herrera said.
“With this opportunity, they will be given a better perspective in order to be part of a peaceful society,” Herrera told reporters.
“The objective of this activity is to increase understanding and awareness about a peaceful environment,” he added.
In Marawi, Capt. Jo-Ann Petinglay, spokesperson for the Joint Task Force Marawi and the military’s Western Mindanao Command, said it was the first time for the children to travel to Manila.
“They were identified as among those vulnerable and susceptible to violent extremism,” she said.
Amina Manonggiring, whose 11-year-old daughter Morliya was among the participants, said she was happy that her daughter was chosen.
Manonggiring said she asked Morliya to relay her wish to Mr. Duterte.
New house, livelihood
“I told her to tell the President to give us a new house and a livelihood because our house in Moncado Colony was burned,” she said.
In Malacañang, one of the children, Hania Macabalang, told reporters before the meeting with the President that she hoped martial law in Mindanao would be lifted.
Macabalang said she also hoped she and her siblings would be able to continue their education.
The daughter of a carpenter and a housewife, Macabalang said the eldest of her six siblings dropped out of school to work and help their parents.
Letter to the President
Another child, Almerah Usman, wrote a letter to the President in which she said she was grateful to the soldiers for fighting the terrorists, but expressed her longing to go home to Marawi and for an end to the war.
In her letter to “Tatay Digong,” Usman said she was thankful that she was brought to Manila, despite the flight leaving her a bit dizzy.
“But we are not happy because we left our home in Marawi,” Usman wrote.
Her family was not rich, and the war has made them poorer, she said.
It was not easy living in evacuation centers, Usman said, but she was still happy because she was with her loved ones.
Angry with terrorists
She also said she was angry with the terrorists for starting the war. She hoped for an end to the conflict after recounting the hardship that she and her family went through as they escaped the fighting.
Like the other children, Usman wanted to be able to continue her studies and hoped she would be made a scholar. She vowed to study well.
Herrera said the children did not bring up martial law during their meeting with the President.
Instead, Usman, chosen as speaker for the group, spoke about her experience in Marawi and her joy in traveling to Manila. She also expressed gratitude to the soldiers for helping them, Herrera said.
She also spoke about her wish to become a scholar to ensure the continuation of her studies.
Mr. Duterte granted her wish and promised scholarships to all the 35 children, Herrera said.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.