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Marawi survivor’s tale: ‘Tasty water lilies’

MARAWI CITY — Jun Abapo, his nephew Onkoy Anggay, and fellow construction worker Barok Cueco decided on Wednesday evening to get out of the war zone in Padian (marketplace) here after more than a month of hiding.

The trio were constructing a building owned by an official of Molundo, Lanao del Sur when the fighting erupted on May 23.

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“We hid in many structures while the fighting was going around us. Bombs would also drop near our location that our hiding places would shake violently,” he said.

Abapo said they grew tired of the gunfire and of the exploding bombs that on Wednesday evening they decided to try their luck and escape.

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They tried hard to avoid detection by Islamic State-inspired militants, who regularly patrolled the area, by moving from one house to another until they reached a portion of the Agus River.

Using improvised floaters such as water jugs, Abapo said they followed the flow of the water — occasionally hiding in the vegetation by the riverbank.

Eating water lilies

He said on Thursday morning they were fired upon by the gunmen, but they managed to dodge every bullet by constantly diving underwater.

By Thursday evening, although exhausted and hungry, they continued with their goal — to get out of the war zone alive by all means.

“We didn’t have anything to eat anymore and we were very hungry. We gathered some water lilies and ate the young stems. It did not taste bad so we just chomped on it,” Abapo, a resident of Sultan Naga Dimaporo in Lanao del Norte, said as he held back his tears.

For the succeeding days, they would swim by the riverbank while dodging more sniper fire and eat more water lilies whenever they can.

“For us, it was important that we get out as soon as possible,” he added.

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But on Saturday evening, while swimming toward the bridge in Barangay Bubong, Abapo said a sniper’s bullet hit Cueco.

“I put his body on a ramp by the riverbank,” he said.

Separation

During successive snipers’ fire, Abapo said he lost sight of Anggay, a son of his younger sister.

“I don’t know where he went and I have no knowledge of what has become of his fate,” he said, his face growing dim.

“I prayed hard that God give me more protection as I spent more hours on the river,” he said.

“By then, water lilies had become tasty already,” he added.

On Sunday morning, Abapo said he finally reached the bridge, where he was spotted by a group of soldiers on the other side of the river, near the city hall.

He reckoned it was about 8 a.m. when he started swimming toward them.

1st Lt. Yvonne Altamera, company commander of the Alpha Company of the 1st Infantry Battalion, said they noticed Abapo swimming toward them amid gunfire.

“We did not return fire so as not to compromise our location but we were yelling to him to just swim toward us,” Altamera said.

Surviving terror

It was around 9 a.m. when Abapo was finally plucked out of the water, weak and gasping for air.

“We gave him dry clothes to wear and slippers then brought him to our (battalion) headquarters,” Altamera said.

Lt. Col. Christopher Tampus, the 1st IB commander, said they immediately informed higher officials about Abapo’s rescue.

“He had survived the Mautes’ terror,” Tampus added.

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TAGS: Barok Cueco, Islamic State, Jun Abapo, Marawi evacuees, Marawi siege, Maute group, Mindanao martial law, Onkoy Anggay
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