“My heart was racing and I tried to catch my breath while wondering if the end for me was near. I feared for my safety, but most importantly, I feared for my family’s safety. The terrorists have infiltrated our city, police station, hospitals and homes. I’m afraid that I may never see my siblings and my parents again.”
Anika Saad shared a glimpse of what was happening in Brangay Caloocan, Marawi City. On May 23, fighting broke out between the Philippine Armed Forces (AFP) and suspected ISIS militants, the Maute Group. An ongoing firefight was also taking place in the neighboring area, Markaz Barangay Malutlut of Marawi City.
To understand why the Mirawa residents fear was justified, one must realize the short history of the rebels they were hiding from.
The Maute Group was formed by brothers, Abdulla and Omar Maute. They were originally known as Dawlah Islamiya but soon became recognized simply as the Maute Group. They group espouses a great hate for non-Muslims and follow Taliban-like forms of justice. Their fame rose in April 2016 when they beheaded two brothers whom they suspected as army spies. Soon after, the Maute Group consolidated with an equally terrifying terrorist group, Abu Sayyaf. One of the biggest terrorist groups in the Philippines, the Abu Sayyaf were known for their acts of terror, specializing in the kidnapping of tourists. if ransom demands were not met, Abu Sayyaf would videotape the beheading of their victim(s).
Originating in 1991, Abu Sayyaf has killed hundreds, if not thousands, of Filipinos and foreigners. In 2004, 116 people were killed when the terrorist group bombed a ferry. They claimed to be fighting for a separate Islamic province and did so by kidnapping, selling drugs, extortion and rape. The group was responsible for the beheading of two Canadian tourists in 2016.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Philippine news outlet, Sun Star, reported that a minimum of five government security troops had been wounded by gunfire. By mid-afternoon, Brigadier General, Restituto Padilla, admitted that that the AFP mission in Mariwa that resulted in heavy gunfire, fires and kidnapping, was to capture the Maute leader, Isnilon Hapilon who was spotted with 14 of his Maute members roaming the area.
Frantic social media posts from Marawi residents fearing for their lives, flooded Facebook and Twitter asking for help. Residents, under an umbrella of smoke and gunfire, used social media to relay their terror and increasing loss of hope.
By nine p.m. Tuesday evening, hospitals, police stations, school campuses and homes were set on fire by the Maute group. The entire city was placed under lockdown and trapped residents continued pleading for help and prayers. Neighboring towns, including the Cagayan de Oro and Davao were placed under Red Alert.
Posted below is the update shared by a Marawi Resident on his Facebook feed:
THEY DIMMED THE LIGHTS TO BURN US DOWN
I was told my school is being burned to the ground. I was informed the city jail is on fire. I was messaged the local hospital is taken over by these men in black hoods.
Roads were blocked, fire trucks were seized, and everyone is questioned of religion. If you can’t prove you are a Muslim, you are “taken care” of.
I have received a message that my high school principal is taken as hostage. Along with her are many non-Muslims who strive to give education to young minds of Marawi. My sisters’ classmates and their families are on their way to our house; they are running away from the threat of fire and bullets.
Black flags are raised to claim dominion of the city.
Hope is frail as of the moment.
I haven’t heard from the local government since the mayor’s interview with CNN where he is still yet to validate and collate information. “No casualties reported” he said.
Churches are torched. This ignorance of religious respect is on an all- time high. This is taking away the culture and the history of Marawi, or my memory of it at least.
I grew up with non-Muslim friends and educators. I am where I am right now because of them. All the people who grew up from where I did are successful because of the community we were raised in.
Instead of our homes, our schools, our hospital, and our jails, burn your ignorant and false extremist beliefs.
We are being burned down. Help us.
I stand with Marawi City and all of the people therein. Please stay strong. Lend a prayer if you can. Open your homes to those in need if you can.
Religious leaders, Ulamas, and people of high regard and influence, step in and negotiate!
Lock your doors. Keep your windows low. Stay strong.
In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful, and the Most Beneficent, light a candle and pray.
A Glimpse of Hope
Later in the evening, a glimpse of hope arises as the latest update to the battle mentions that the Marawi situation has stabilized. Chief Marine Colonel Edgard A. Arevalo shared that they security forces were in full control of the city but they could not give out the exact details as the ongoing operations might be compromised.
Arevalo also asked help from the general public wherein he mentioned that people should refrain from posting on social media as it can impact the operations:
“Meanwhile, we fervently urge our people to refrain from posting in social media information that would tend exacerbate the situation. Especially of photos and videos on the movements of our troops and on terrorist propaganda circulating through social media,” Public Affairs Office Chief Marine Colonel Edgard A. Arevalo mentioned in his statement. “We will continue to provide updates as often as possible with due regard to the security of our operating forces and the conduct of the operations itself.”
President Duterte’s Take on The Marawi Siege
President Rodrigo Duterte was in the midst of his meeting with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin when the Marawi siege took place. Duterte cut his trip short realizing that the situation in Marawi was too serious sto be dismissed. To contain the terror attack, President Duterte declared Martial Law, a very unpopular choice in the annals of Philippine history. The Martial Law decree, however, is only applicable in Mindanao and would only run for 60 days.
“Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra has clarified that this was possible on the grounds of existence of rebellion because of what is happening in Mindanao based on Article 7, Section 18 of the Constitution. This is good for 60 days,” Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said.
It was also mentioned that everything that needs to be done during the martial law should be accomplished within the span of 60 days to eradicate the terrorist group that invaded Marwari.
Terrorism in the Philippines
Terrorist groups plagued the Philippines as early as the 1970’s where one of the biggest casualties took place in Quiapo. A huge explosion took place during a political campaign rally of the Liberal Party where nine people died and 95 others were injured.
Since January 2000 radical Islamist groups and Islamist separatist forces in the Philippines have carried out over 40 major bombings against civilians and civilian property, mostly in Mindanao. A number of bombings have also been carried out in and around Metro Manila. All told, between 2000 and 2007, 400 Filipinos have lost their lives to terrorist attacks and almost two thousand have been injured.
In the light of what’s happening in the Philippines, especially in Mindanao, I can’t help but bleed for my countrymen. My heart breaks knowing that I can’t do anything about it. What I do know is that I can take a stand using words and I can create awareness. I will educate people about fake news, biased updates and unverified reports.
I urge our dear readers to look out for one another. Share the love to help eliminate hate. Push for peace instead of anger and hatred. Let us not allow terrorism to take over our lives or change us. Now is not the time to point fingers on who’s to blame, now is the time to unite and help each other in whatever way we can.
Written by Abbie Uychiat
Abbie Uychiat studied BS Psychology and is an aspiring independent film director based in the Philippines. She is a dreamer and is juggling the joys of single motherhood, her career as a recruitment specialist and a freelance writer. Part of her mission is to provide a better and cleaner Philippines for the future generation.