Marawi evacuees safe, but longing for home
BALO-I, Lanao del Norte — Sarah, a 50-year-old widow, shed a tear while counting the days she and her family have spent at the evacuation center here since Islamic State-linked terrorists laid siege to their home in Marawi City.
“We’re now into our 16th day here,” she said on Wednesday as she sat on the floor of the Gumampong Ali Cultural Center, where 990 others who left their villages in Marawi City are staying. “And things have not gotten any better.”
Sarah, who did not want to give her family name, said she and her five children shared a small space, “not even two meters long and wide,” inside the makeshift evacuation center.
Local officials admitted that the space was tight as the cultural center covers a floor area of only 1,800 square meters .
“We have the same situation in eight other evacuation centers here,” said Vice Mayor Mustapha Ali.
But Ali pointed out that none of the evacuees starved because the local government had surplus supply of food and water.
“We received many donations and we gave it all to the evacuees,” he said.
Sarah agreed that, at least for now, supplies were adequate, pointing to a sack beside her that contained rice, canned goods and instant noodle packs. But what worried her was the situation in the evacuation center.
“It’s not conducive at all. We may have lots of food here but we still want to go home. We may have a small house there, but I prefer it over where we are staying now,” she said of her home in Sitio Bliss in Barangay Papandayan, Marawi.
Although no one among her children had contracted any diseases, she said they could fall ill anytime unless their situation improved.
“We also need to deal with the trauma that has caught our children. They cry when they hear banging sounds or the sound of metal hitting the ground. A simple yell would also make them fidgety,” she said.
Mila, 40, said conditions in the evacuation center had worsened her bouts with asthma.
“This could kill me—the dust, the humidity—but where could we possibly go?” the single mother of 10 said. “How we wish this situation is over now so we can go home already.”
Sarah said their situation could possibly be better if the bombing of Marawi City and the military operations were terminated altogether.
“That’s why we are appealing to President Duterte to lift martial law already,” she said of the President’s declaration placing Mindanao under military rule after terror groups attacked Marawi on May 23.
Sarah said she was making the same appeal to the Maute and Abu Sayyaf gunmen “to leave Marawi.”
“Leave us alone in peace,” she said.
“We do not have anything to do with you (Maute and Abu Sayyaf) but we are suffering because of what you did. You attacked Marawi at the height of Ramadan and it’s partly because of you why [Marawi is] now in ruins,” she said.
Mangoda Dimacaling, 35, of Barangay Saduc, said they were living peacefully until the gunmen sowed chaos in their city last month.
“I saw neighbors stumbling as they tried to locate family members. There was hysteria everywhere,” Dimacaling said.
The father of three said he was tending his small store when the clashes became serious.
“I did not bother about my wares anymore. My family was what mattered to me,” he said, recounting how he dashed home “in just a matter of minutes.”
Without even checking if he had money in his pocket, Dimacaling said he packed his family into a neighbor’s vehicle and ended up at the Gumampong Ali Cultural Center here, some 18 kilometers from Marawi.
Mila said her anger at the Maute group could not be measured. She recounted how her children had to carry her because it would have killed her if she walked on her own during their journey through the hills.
“We walked barefoot for the whole day and the whole night. We didn’t have food, we didn’t have water. All we were thinking of was to be safe. We cannot use the roads because fighting was everywhere and bullets could hit us,” Mila said.
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