From the Frontlines of Marawi

From the Frontlines of Marawi. Written by Jervis Manahan for SubSelfie.com.

The siege was already on its ninth day when my cameraman and I flew to Marawi. It was an assignment I was anticipating since the day firefight broke out in the city. Our defense reporter rode a C130 on the second day, and I was asked by the desk to replace her after a week. I have long wanted to do a conflict coverage, but admittedly, I had lots of apprehensions. It didn’t help that while we are on our way to NAIA, a friend who works in a broadsheet told me their van got hit by a bullet. It added to my anxiety, but I knew I have to remain composed.

From Cagayan De Oro, we had to travel for more than an hour to reach Iligan, Lanao del Norte. Almost all news teams covering the siege stay there. The sun was out and it was a gorgeous morning when we landed. There were no signs we were heading to a warzone until we saw armored trucks along the way.

Due to weariness the team decided to rest upon our arrival, but instead of joining them I headed straight to Marawi City, a 40-minute ride from Iligan. At that time, I really didn’t know what to expect except from the images I have previously seen on TV.

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The flag in Saguiaran Elementary School was flown in half mast.

I heard the first explosion even before we reached the capitol. Smoke billowed from a distance. Then, attacks were non-stop. This is it, I thought.

The sadder part is that I eventually got used to it. After a few days, hearing frightening airstrikes became “normal”. I overcame my fear because we got to listen to sniper shots day in and day out.

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We would spend the next sixteen days covering the war. The images are so haunting, it’s easy to lose your focus. There are so many faces and so many stories happening at the same time. There were displaced families, wounded soldiers, distressed civilians itching to go back to their homes, and even looters. Where do you point your camera? Whom do you talk to?

For now, I’ll share some of the stories that struck me in my two-week stay in Marawi City.

Jenever Velasquez

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Jenever Velasquez was limping because of his wound. A bullet from Maute group hit his leg.

She was doing construction work when the siege started. Despite their pleading, their boss didn’t allow them to go home. Together with a dozen of his colleagues, they sought shelter inside a house for three weeks. They survived the loud sniper shots and explosions but they faced a major problem: hunger. They ran out of food and when they cannot bear it anymore, they did what they called a suicide escape. Once they started running out of the house, members of the Maute group fired at them. A bullet hit Jenever’s leg. They had to seek a safe shelter again for a night, while blood is bursting from his wounded leg. They were eventually rescued by the military.

Shawy Dela Cruz

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Shawy dela Cruz, wife of Corporal Christopher Dela Cruz, who perished in a friendly fire.

She traveled for hours all the way to Iligan City from Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay, only to see her husband’s remains in a coffin blanketed by a Philippine flag. We saw her in her most sorrowful moment – losing a husband in the war. For most of us, casualties in a war can be reduced to a number. But for Shawy, she lost half of her life. “Siya ang lakas ko, siya ang superhero ko. Prinsesa ako niyan. Hindi ko lang siya partner. Bestfriend ko ‘yan. Nawalan ka na ng bestfriend, nawalan ka pa ng superhero. Wala na akong magagawa.” Shawy then burst into tears. She still could not explain to her two young children what happened to their dad.

Joshua Villanueva

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Joshua Villanueva dreams of becoming an engineer in Marawi City someday.

He could have been playing computer games together with friends, but instead, he is sitting in a cramped space in Maria Cristina evacuation center. Together with his family, they have been trapped in Marawi City for three days until they were rescued. Because of such young age, Joshua is yet to fully understand why this had to happen in his homeland. His dreams were rather simple, be an engineer and live a comfortable life in Marawi. Prior to the war, he did not have plans of leaving the city. Now, everything has become uncertain, with his school already burnt into ashes.

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Eleven unidentified civilians killed in the war were buried nameless in a mass grave.

Jenever, Shawy, and Joshua were just three of the many people afflicted by the war. If anything, the first thing I learned is that living in peace is a privilege. That while most of us can sleep blissfully at night, there are people who wake up with the sound of bombs and sleep with the fear of stray bullets piercing through their roofs.

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Aside from manning the front lines, soldiers also help in humanitarian missions.

We left Marawi on June 15, and with how things are going, we are almost certain that the crisis is far from over. We can only hope that once we get back, there will be no more stories of sorrow and despair, but rather, stories of hope and redemption for a city as idyllic as Marawi.

[Entry 230, The SubSelfie Blog]

About the Author:

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Jervis Manahan is a News Reporter for PTV 4. He is a Contributor for SubSelfie.com and part of the original roster that founded the site. He was previously a News Writer for 24 Oras and Unang Balita, and a News Researcher for State of the Nation with Jessica Soho. Broadcast Communication 2012, UP Diliman. Read more of his articles here.

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