MARAWI CITY: The Maranao men, apparently missing in evacuation centers, were cited for their humanitarian efforts to ease the plight of hundreds of thousands of civilians displaced by the on-going fighting in this city amid security concerns.
Drieza Abato Lininding, a Maranao activist and critic of the Marawi siege, said many Maranao men have volunteered to various local and international humanitarian groups providing relief operations to the refugees at the evacuation centers.
“They even put their life in danger when going to the battlefield to save trapped civilians,” Linding said, adding that volunteers in the Joint GPH-MILF Peace Corridor and other rescue teams were “brave men” belonging to the Maranao tribe.
“Our men, who have physical strength, used their capability in the crisis due to the traditional kathatabanga and martabat [helping each other and pride],” he added.
Speculations raised that most men have joined the terrorist group in fighting the government forces after only women and children, including the elderly, were seen at the evacuations centers.
More than 200,000 residents of Marawi were displaced when fighting broke out between the government forces and local jihadists affiliated to the Islamic State (IS).
Of the total refugees, about 85 to 90 percent were home-based internal displaced people (IDPs) and more than 20,000 families sheltered in different evacuation centers.
On the morning of May 24 civilians started to flee the city after the rebels gave a six-hour deadline for people to leave or a few hours after martial law was declared in the entire Mindanao in the wake of the crisis.
“The IS [Islamic State] used megaphone to relay the messages,” Omar, not his true name, told The Manila Times.
“My friends and I spent time to bring relatives to safer places. We prioritized our women and children,” said Omar, an evacuee who later joined the Ranao Rescue Team and Lanao Youth Council for humanitarian works.
“I don’t want to waste my time at the evacuation centers or at the houses of my relatives because I feel useless,” he said.
The Manila Times met Omar when he volunteered on June 4 at the peace corridor effort to extract civilians trapped in the battlefield. The group has recovered 240 civilians from ground zero amid the fighting.
Omar said he and his colleagues were sleeping anywhere their operations brought them, sometimes near the evacuation centers or beach resorts together with the refugees.
“I really hope that the fighting will end soon so we can go back to our normal life,” he said.
Omar is a student of Mindanao State University, Marawi campus and is supposed to graduate next year but he missed the summer for a pre-requisite subject in the next semester.
The firefight broke out on May 23 when the military initiated an operation to capture the top leader of the IS in the country, Isnilon Hapilon, who has a bounty over his head of $5 million and P10 million through US reward program and the local government, respectively.
The military operation was carried out amid a plot of the rebels to take over Marawi. The rebels retaliated by immediately activating its plot and hoisting the black flag of the IS around the city.
The IS militants earlier claimed to have controlled 80 percent of Marawi City but as the fighting reached its fifth week, military forces have cornered the extremists in four barangay (villages).