Aftermaths from natural disasters are common in the Philippines. Everywhere there are debris from structures and foliage. Evacuation sites pop up like mushrooms. Relief goods pour in. You would think an aftermath from a war would just be the same.
After meeting with contact persons and accomplishing the paperwork for our conduct pass, our group made it to our first evacuation center at Iligan City. We were met by loud claps from children and adults alike. Asked about this, our military escort responded that it was how they greet new people coming in.
I would have asked if they were really glad to see us but I got immediately swarmed by kids looking at the camera I was holding. The rest of the team went on to meet with DSWD personnel and I stayed behind as I tried to capture the smiling faces on these kids. Clicking away, I thought, would I ever see these faces again?
After we visited another evacuation site in Iligan, our host, Mindanao State University (MSU), drove us through the one and a half hour ride to Marawi. We passed by several evacuation sites along the way. Nearing the city, we were all very eager to get off the van and take photos of the houses and establishments marked either “cleared” or “ISIS basecamp” by the AFP/PNP.
Our MSU police escort however relayed instructions that we are not at anytime allowed to dismount the vehicle until we are at MSU. We took the shots inside the van as our request to slow down the vehicle a bit was granted. We were far from ground zero but it certainly felt like we were in the war-zone already. Garbage was everywhere as we passed by numerous checkpoints. A few stores were already open but I thought, “Will the rest be opened soon or will they be closed for good--a new life at a new place?”
Although untouched, MSU grieves for the fellow Maraoans affected by the war. Stories of how they fled the city were shared by a number of faculty members who graciously made our stay comfortable. Our MSU police escort led us to an unfinished building where we could see the city. Our group cringed as he narrated how everyday there were like fireworks coupled with earthquake-like tremors.
I also noticed that they were all eager to tell their own tales every chance they would get. I thought, who wouldn’t after surviving a war?
Even before we got to Marawi, we were told that we were not allowed to enter “ground zero.” So we were very surprised when on the way back to Iligan, we were given a chance to get nearer and catch a closer glimpse of the city.
It took me maybe a full minute to scan the place near Rapitan Bridge before I started clicking away. It was practically a ghost town if not for the presence of the military at the checkpoint. Houses were abandoned and those beyond the bridge were either burned or bullet-stricken. I thought, this is surreal.
The aftermaths from natural disasters are not the same as aftermaths from war.
This time, we did this to our fellow brothers and sisters. The aftermath is a reminder that we did this to ourselves. ■