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‘Get us out of here’

MARAWI CITY — At least 30 people, including seven children, had been trapped inside a four-story building here since Monday, as fighting continued between government forces and the Maute terrorist group.

Among those trapped was Jing Sakay, a driver of former politician Alibasia Knife Lucman, who called on authorities to immediately rescue them from the building in Barrio Paypay.

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“We are at the center of fighting. We appeal to government officials to send a rescue team to get us out of here,”  said Sakay by phone, adding that their provisions were running low.

Sakay said that on Monday, the Lucman family, which owns several businesses here, decided to move out of the compound when they sensed that armed men were coming.

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Tata Lucman, a member of the  family, said they intentionally left their workers behind because it was more dangerous for them leave as gunmen from the Maute group were roaming the streets and setting up checkpoints to flush out Christians.

“If we brought them with us, I’m 100-percent sure that something bad would happen to them,” she added.

Jimmy Esperat, a 42-year-old father of seven, called his wife—who was in Zamboanga City—on Thursday and said that they were painting another building when the Maute group came on Monday.

“My husband called up, he was whispering on his phone. He said they moved to another building when (the) Maute (group) started occupying the building they were painting. There were women and children, mostly the families of his coworkers,” said Esperat’s wife, Aleta.

By her husband’s account, Aleta said the Lucman workers climbed into the ceiling while others hid in other areas of the building.

“They have no water and food and many of them are getting sick because of lack of sustenance for days now,” Aleta added.

She said those trapped inside the building were trying “not to sigh, cough or breathe loudly at night,” out of fear of being discovered.

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They also worry that a bomb might hit the place, Aleta added.

Esperat and 10 other individuals from Zamboanga City went to Marawi last month to work for better wages to support their families.

Meanwhile, residents continued to stream out of this city, including Pakir Abdusalam, wife Mona and their two children who squeezed into a packed tricycle that would take them 65 kilometers away to Iligan City.

A light shower was falling, but Abdusalam had only one thing in mind—his safety and that of his family.  Around him, hundreds of familiar faces had joined the exodus, taking to the streets in hopes of catching a ride. The sound of gunshots and occasional explosions behind only served to quicken their steps.

Not leaving meant “you were with the Maute and Abu Sayyaf,” Abdusalam told the Inquirer, his words offering a glimpse of how sharply divided this once bustling community had become.

The city had always been known as the Islamic City of the Philippines, where Islam is strictly observed but Christians can also practice their faith unmolested.

Marawi City is home to the Catholic Santa Maria Auxiliadora Cathedral, two Iglesia ni Cristo churches, Dansalan College, which is operated by the United Church of Christ of the Philippines, and several other chapels and churches put up by born-again Christians.

Until the Maute group scattered both Muslims and Christians and sent them scampering for safety, people here quietly went about their life, tended their businesses or worked in private companies and government offices.

Now, the evacuees are seeking safe shelter in nearby cities.  For Abdusalam, the best option was Iligan City where he has some relatives.

Temporary shelter

For 46-year-old Ked Bashier, home has become this temporary shelter near the headquarters of the Army’s 103rd Infantry Brigade here.

“We cannot go back to our home because it is occupied by the military and their enemies,” Bashier said, adding that what worried him and other evacuees was that food and water might eventually run out, as the situation in the city  has prevented outside help from quickly getting in.

Zorahayda Taha, director of the Department of Social Welfare and Development in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), said relief assistance was definitely coming though she could not say when exactly.

The Humanitarian and Emergency Action Response Team of the ARMM said that as of 7 p.m. on Thursday, 21,308 individuals had already fled the city and could overwhelm local government units in nearby cities.

Temporary shelters

Grace Saquilabon, Iligan City’s social welfare officer, said that displaced families from Marawi City were now staying at evacuation centers in Barangay Buruun, the gymnasium in Barangay Maria Christina, and in the campus of the Mindanao State University–Iligan Institute of Technology.

In Baloi, Lanao del Norte province, which is about 21 km from here, some 3,000 people have arrived as of Thursday, according to Insp. Alexas Daraba, the town police chief. —WITH  REPORTS FROM  TITO FIEL AND JIGGER JERUSALEM

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TAGS: Marawi refugees, Marawi siege, Minadanao martial law
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