• TERROR IN MARAWI

    Teachers recall march to freedom

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    Merryal Burlado, Ramir Rosario and Buddy Sibug still tremble when they recall their march to safety under a hail of bullets in Marawi City.

    The three, together with 39 other teachers, survived several life-threatening situations and close encounters with Maute Group terrorists.

    “Napapanaginipan pa rin namin araw-araw. Nagigising kami sa gabi at naaalala ang nangyari. Hindi namin makalimutan. Pinipilit, pero hindi madali [We have dreams about it everyday. We wake up in the middle of the night and remember what happened. We cannot forget. We are trying, but it is not easy],” Sibug said a month after fleeing the war-torn city.

    Burlado, Rosario, and Sibug were part of a group of 300 teachers from Lanao del Sur who attended a seminar on the Department of Education’s K-to-12 program. They were only one day away from finishing the program when a co-teacher during lunch told them that something untoward was happening.

    “May mangyayari, dumating na sila (Maute Group) [Something will happen, the Maute Group has arrived],” Burlado recounted her fellow teacher as saying.

    NOWHERE TO RUN Teachers wait for a chance to go home at the Provincial Capitol of Lanao del Sur. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

    When her husband and other teachers looked out, they saw two white vans park and around 20 armed spreading out.

    “Akala nga namin military kasi nakapang-military tapos naka-inner ng black. May malalaking armas [We thought they were members of the military because they wore military-like uniform with black shirts. They had big firearms],” Burlado recalled.

    What caught her attention was a member of the armed group who looked like a foreigner.

    Panicking, the teachers who were based in Marawi City fled to their homes after one of their colleagues talked to a Maute Group member.

    “Nagseseminar lang po ang mga teachers, pabayaan niyo po silang makaalis [The teachers are just having a seminar. Please let them go],” Burlado recounted her colleague as telling a Maute member.

    However, 40 teachers who were residents of Wao, Lanao del Sur, which is nine hours away, were trapped.

    Burlado recalled that one of her colleagues told her to go with a group of Marawi City-based teachers but she refused because several male teachers, including her husband, were hiding in the ceiling.

    “Sabi ko, ‘yung asawa ko hindi ko pa kasama. Hindi ko siya pwedeng iwanan. Kung mamamatay kami, mamamatay kaming magkasama [I said my husband is not with me. I cannot leave him. If we will die, we will die together,” Burlado said.

    Initial rescue
    After some time, the group of teachers was escorted by one of their Marawi-based colleagues to the residence of the provincial planning officer, Sobair Dicasaran, a Muslim.

    Rosario, 45, recounted that he was suffering from asthma, thus he was unable to bow his head as they passed Maute members because he was having trouble breathing.

    “I could not bow my head too much. I could not breath. The Maute must have thought I was haughty,” Rosario said.

    A masked Maute member pulled Rosario from the group and pointed him to a parked vehicle, suggesting that he should go there.

    However, a colleague pulled Rosario’s other hand and whisked him away.

    The group stayed overnight at the house of Dicasaran. But they were not able to sleep because of the bursts of gunfire and explosions that could be heard throughout the night.

    Fearsome march
    The next day, the group decided to go to the provincial capitol, some two hours away. However, Dicasaran only had one vehicle so the group of teachers had to walk.

    Dicasaran and his three children escorted the 41 teachers. He instructed the teachers not to speak to anyone.

    “Walang magsasalita, yumuko lang kayo. Tuloy-tuloy lang ang lakad [No one should speak, just bow your heads. Continue walking.]” Burlado remembered Dicasaran as telling them.

    “Ang daming kumakausap sa amin. Hindi kami sumasagot, si officer (Dicasaran) lang [A lot of people were talking to us. We did not respond, only Dicasarn did],” she said, recounting the group’s march towards the provincial capitol.

    Many stranded locals were surprised to see the group braving the streets of Marawi City.

    Sibaug added, “Halo-halo na ang nararamdaman namin. Literal na umuulan ng bala. Hindi na namin alam kung saan nanggagaling ang putok. Basta kami tuloy lang sa paglalakad [We had mixed emotions. Bullets were literally raining down. We no longer saw where the gunshots were coming from. We just kept on marching].”

    When they reached the capitol, Burlado and her group shared the food meant for soldiers. There, they waited for vehicles from their schools to bring them to safety.

    Attacked
    On the third night, the provincial capitol was attacked by the Maute Group.

    “May pulang ilaw na lumipad. Akala pa nga ng kasamahan namin may fireworks, pero umaatake na pala ang mga Maute [There was a red flare. A colleague thought there were fireworks, but it turned out that the Maute Group was attacking],” Burlado recounted.

    The group moved from the second floor to the third floor of the provincial capitol building.

    “Tumatagos ang bala. Iyak na kami nang iyak. Hindi ko nga sinabi sa nanay ko at sa dalawang anak ang nangyayari [Bullets were penetrating the building. We were all crying. I did not tell my mother and two children what was happening,”

    The military eventually repelled the attack.

    On the fourth day, several teachers were fetched by relatives and friends.

    Rosario, meanwhile, boarded a vehicle sent by his school while Burlado, Sibug and 11 others waited for a promised bus to rescue them.

    The bus never came.

    The 13 teachers eventually were able to leave the capitol building when a van with spare seats accommodated them.

    The 300 teachers who attended the conference are all safe. The 42 teachers from Wao, Lanao del Sur have resumed their duties.

    “Hindi ko po talaga makakalimutan. Hanggang ngayon hindi pa rin ako maka-move on. ‘Yung pag-martsa namin, ‘yung walang tigil na putok at bomba [I will not forget our experience. Until now I cannot move on. Our march, the unending gunshots and bombs],” Rosario said.

    The Department of Education’s (DepEd) Marawi City Division has more than 1,400 teachers but a hundred are still not accounted for.

    Most of the Marawi City-based teachers have been deployed to nearby schools, assisting displaced students. DepEd satellite offices, meanwhile, were set up in Region 10 and Iligan City.

    Teacher in Marawi will undergo Psychosocial First Aid (PFA). Already, 100 teachers have finished the program, while a second batch will be accommodated next month.

    The 42 teachers from Wao, Lanao del Sur have resumed their duties but are waiting for assistance, intervention and debriefing.

    They may be safe now, but Burlado, Rosario and Sibug continue to be haunted by their ordeal and may have nightmares for many more months to come.

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