Marawi evacuees find refuge in Cebu City
Public school teacher Alaina Macabato sat quietly at the backseat of a Cebu City–owned bus.
She was actually relieved that she and her family finally arrived in Cebu City after fleeing her native Marawi City, the capital city of Lanao del Sur that is now the battleground between government troops and the Islamic State (IS)–inspired Maute terror group.
“It is only now that we feel safe,” Macabato said in halting Cebuano.
Macabato and her family were among the 14 families or 62 individuals who arrived in Cebu City on Friday morning after escaping from the war-torn city.
The internal refugees boarded MV Trans Asia 8 in Iligan City which sailed on Thursday night to Cebu City.
It was in Iligan City, a highly urbanized city and the economic center of the Lanao provinces located some 50 kilometers from Marawi, that most of the fleeing residents of the besieged city have sought and were given refuge by the local government by housing them in hastily set up evacuation centers.
But some residents decided to no longer join those who evacuated to Iligan and instead went to other areas in Lanao del Sur or Lanao del Norte while others, like Macabato, opted to go to places like Cebu City that have welcomed them in coordination with the local Muslim community.
Upon their arrival at 7:09 a.m., the evacuees boarded two city-owned buses that took them to a holding area of the Cebu Port Authority where their profiles were taken by personnel from the Cebu City Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office (CCDRMO), Department of Education (DepEd) Cebu City Division and the National Commission for Muslim Filipinos-Visayas (NCMF-Visayas).
Macabato, 24, and a teacher of Madrasah Education Program at the Zapatera Elementary School in Cebu City, went home to Barangay Mapandi in Marawi City for a vacation and to spend the first few days of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month that started on May 27 and would end on June 24.
The end of Ramadan will be marked by Eid al-Fitr on June 25, which means “festival of breaking the fast.”
Macabato recalled that she and a female friend were at the public market to buy fish and vegetables on May 23 when they heard about the fighting between soldiers and the Maute-IS group in the city’s Barangay Basak Malutlut.
She just brushed aside the news because she thought it would not affect her and her family since their home was 30 minutes away from Barangay Basak Malutlut.
“If there was war in other area, the other areas were usually not affected,” she explained.
While she was looking at the clothes sold in the market, she heard bursts of gunfire and learned that the Maute group was already in Barangay Naga, which was just a few minutes away from her home in Barangay Mapandi.
Macabato wanted to go home immediately but was told that it was not safe to leave because the terrorists were already in the area.
“Luckily, there was a woman who lived nearby and allowed us to stay in her house until it was safe to leave,” she said.
Macabato said she left the woman’s house at past noon, but since there were no longer any public transportation available, she decided to run to her house. It was 3:30 p.m. when she arrived.
Just moments after she got inside her house, members of the Maute Group — all clad in black — passed by her house. “Good thing that we locked our house immediately,” she recalled with a shudder.
The next day, the family decided to leave their home and evacuated to Balo-i in Lanao del Norte.
Since there was no transportation available, Macabato and her family walked from 8 a.m to 4:30 p.m.
They didn’t bring anything except the clothes on their backs because they didn’t realize that the war would last long. They then decided to proceed to Iligan City and join the other evacuees heading for Cebu, a place already familiar to Macabato.
Macabato hoped to start a new chapter in Cebu City with her family. At present, they are renting a room in Barangay Mambaling because they don’t have relatives here.
Aside from Macabato, Salma Abdulla, another teacher of the Madrasah Education Program at Zapatera Elementary School, also arrived on Friday after being trapped in the war in Marawi.
Minang A. Mananggis, coordinator of Madrasah Education Program in Cebu City Division, said the two teachers would undergo stress debriefing before they would be allowed to go back to work.
“We already have substitutes for them while they will undergo stress debriefing,” said Mananggis.
Another evacuee, Somaya Palao, was teary-eyed when the vessel landed at the pier.
“It feels safe to be here,” said Palao, 47, a native of Barangay Boganga, Marawi City, but who runs a business in Catbalogan City in Samar province.
Palao was with her 9-month-old grandson, six children and five grandchildren. The infant kept on crying and was restless, which Palao said resulted from trauma suffered by the child after hearing loud bursts of gunfire and explosion from the air strike.
Palao was vacationing in Marawi City when the fighting between the Maute Group and state troops broke out.
“We were so scared. We were crying,” she said.
She recalled that it took them almost eight hours to reach Iligan City when it was supposedly only an hour away. They had to rent a truck for P8,000 to transport their whole family.
Palao cried, remembering how the air strike damaged her ancestral home as well as the houses of their neighbors.
“It is sad to see what has happened to our city. A lot of civilians were killed and our houses were damaged. I am begging President Duterte to stop the air strike. This is the first time that this happened to Marawi,” she added.
Palao and her family were waiting for another vessel that would take them to Catbalogan City where she runs a store. She is hoping that the siege in Marawi will end soon so she and her family can return home.
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